Thursday, December 27, 2007


Much to my honor and surprise, I discovered today that I have been "blessed" by the wise and eloquent Diane. As I understand it, the idea is explained here:

The idea… it’s a game of tag with a difference, rather than looking inwardly, we look outside ourselves and bless, praise and pray for one blog friend. By participating in this endeavour we not only make the recipient of the blessing feel valued and appreciated, but we are having some fun too. We’re going to see how far the bloggin’ blessings can travel around the world and how many people can be blessed! Recipients of a bloggin’ blessing may upload the above image to their sidebar if they choose to. If you recieve a bloggin’ blessin’ please leave a comment on this thread here so that we can rejoice in just how many blessings have been sent around the world!

So I gather that the idea is to "bless" three people in the blogosphere, and to tell them why I have chosen to bless them. But first let me say to Diane how honored I am to have received your "blessing," particularly since I very much admire your writing and wisdom.

Second, let me say as clearly as I can that limiting this to only three people is hard because there are so many blogs and people I admire for so many reasons. I am blessed to have had the chance to get to know all of you.

And since I can procrastinate no longer, I bless more cows for her friendship, wisdom, intelligence and generosity of spirit. Second, I bless Gannet Girl, for her honesty, willingness to challenge me, and courage (I hope that if ever I find myself called to another vocation, I will have some portion of the courage she is showing in pursuing hers). Finally, I bless Wyld, for reminding me that holiness and wisdom come in many forms, for the courage he shows in serving our country, and for his dedication to honesty and integrity.

Though I am limited to only three "blessings" as part of this game, I also wanted to send virtual shout-outs to Mags (who constantly amazes and inspires me with her wisdom, eloquence, and wit) and Katherine (who has been so generous in sharing her thoughts, reflections, and wisdom with me. Katherine, your willingness to pursue a better working situation when it might have been "safer" to stay at an old one impresses me a lot).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Merry Christmas to all my friends in the blogosphere! It has been a joy to share this year with all of you, to share stories, and to benefit from your wisdom. Prayers and best wishes for a Christmas full of light, joy, life, and hope.

Friday, December 21, 2007

of Advent and focus

Our focus can become our reality.

This little thought has been percolating around my head today. I've heard it many times in various forms throughout the years. In graduate school they taught us that people with depression, for instance, tend to focus on failures and signs of rejection -- ignoring or minimizing any positive evidence about themselves or their worlds. Similarly, those with anxiety often focus on signs of threat, etc.

But for reasons I cannot go into here, today I found myself thinking about affection and emotional intimacy. About how our choice of focus can cause us to hug without feeling hugged, to touch without feeling touched, to love without feeling loved in return. Our focus can cause us to go through the motions of life without opening our heart and letting life touch us back.

Which got me thinking about Advent. This time of preparation for this immense Gift we are to receive. I think it is easy to consider this in terms of setting our lives "on the right road," or correcting unhealthy patterns. And all of this may be true. But I think on a deeper level, Advent may be about opening our hearts, letting this upcoming Moment touch us, affect us, change us.

Loving God, yes, but also letting God love us, letting ourselves feel loved by God.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christmas story...sort of...

And so it came to pass in the year of our current era 2007, that there was great demand for this device known as “Wii” – demand so great as to dwarf the supply sent out by the renowned company Nintendo.

Many were the glories of this Wii, for though the graphics and sound were of small comparison to others, yet it did have sensors and pieces capable of mimicking actions of real sport. And so powerful was this idea as to fill those seduced by its advertisements with notions of fun at parties and improved golf swings.

And, lo, in defiance of the small odds of success, did the man go in search of the Wii. Yea, even to the point of uncovering the likely time of arrival of the UPS truck at local stores with dubious health care policies for their workers did he go, and stood in lines, and followed up with phone calls.

And the Lord God looked down upon this, and spoke thus: “you shall have no Wii.”

Hearing thus, the man did redouble his efforts, following up on hints and advertisements. Yea, even did he participate in things called “lotteries” and other promotions of dubious moral character to obtain this great Wii.

And God repeated: “you shall have no Wii.”

Hearing this again, the man did mutter curses under his breath and considered the many virtues of the Wii, yea even so that the Wii seemed to become golden and shaped like a cow of few years in his mind.

And God spoke: “you shall DEFINITELY have no Wii.”

The man sulked home at this, and gradually paused to consider the time and energy spent in pursuit of this Wii, this thing that may be easier to purchase in the coming months. And, lo, did his strivings seem to him of vanity and ego and consumerism. And he was ashamed.

So the man did choose to think instead of gifts of more lasting value, of peace and joy and compassion. Yes, he even resolved to seek these gifts with at least as much devotion as he had spent on the Wii.

Yet even as he pursued these things, still he was occasionally discovered muttering under his breath, “great, now how exactly is THIS going to help me break 90?”

Friday, December 14, 2007

fear, lies, and consequences

I think I was in the third or fourth grade when I first recall witnessing cruelty (or at least identifying it as such). That is, this is when I first recall seeing kids act as bullies towards other kids. And I don't even recall being an object of bullying, though I suppose I might have been and don't remember the specific incident. I just remember sensing that such a thing was now possible.

So I came up with what I believed at the time was a perfect solution. That is, I began spreading word that I was being trained in karate. Now, was this true? No. But in my mind, it inured me from the the threat of attack. And, honestly, it seemed to work, at least for a time. I was afraid, and this little white lie, this idea that I might be learning to defend myself, worked.

Mind you, I didn't flaunt this knowledge. I never pretended to attack anyone to prove myself. I just started a rumor, a lie.

As time went on, people started asking me about this professed knowledge, and I demured. In fact, I made a point of saying that I was just beginning to learn, that I really didn't have anything to show them. Yet still the questions continued, and my lack of answers for them only seemed to frustrate them further.

I remember about a year or so after I started this rumor, having three of the bigger, more athletic kids corner me on the playground. One was a wrestler, one was a boxer, and one was in football. And each of them took turns taking me to the ground, maybe because they wanted to test my ability to defend myself, though I don't really recall whether they mentioned anything about that or not.

And so this lie, this little thing (in my mind at the time) that came from fear, resulted in a series of events which created even more fear. And so it was that I gradually became a wallflower, one of those painfully shy social outcasts.

I tell this story not so much because it serves as a morality play about deception (though I like to think it does that), but because memories of this have been surfacing in me as I take steps towards this whole Christian community thing. And I think it is useful to name those feelings, to be honest about their source. And to think deeply about what they say about me, about what I'm looking for from community, about what my fears and biases might be.

But on some strange, juvenile level, I also think I tell this story because there is within me a need to tell the truth. I don't know karate. I'm perhaps even shamefully unable to defend myself, if the situation called for it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

morning thoughts

This morning did not start particularly well. My sleep had been restless, and the difficulty I had keeping enough blankets over my body left me with the impression of cold, of striving, of longing.

So when my five year old jumped up on our bed at 6:30 yelling "good morning!" at the top of his lungs, I knew the day was not starting on a particularly good note. So we played the DVR copy of one of his favorite shows, and I crept off into his room to try and catch a few extra minutes of rest.

Scant moments after lying down again, however, the regular morning onslaught of requests began: "MOM! DAD! I want Honey Nut Cheerios!", "Bring me juice!", "I want 'the three little pigs' one instead!"

So although it was with some sense of relief when I could finally escape into the shower, I was aware of a general tension, anxiety, and stress inside of myself. Or, perhaps better, I was not aware of it at first. I was going through the motions, getting ready for the day, repeating a litany of things that had to get done to myself. It was only when I noticed the soreness in my shoulder (a lingering golf injury) that I really noticed these things.

And in noticing this discomfort, physical and mental, I paused simply to relax, to breathe, to nurture peace in that moment. It was remarkable how differently I felt after that. I hope to get better at incorporating such moments throughout my day.

I was thinking of this because of my current search for "Christian community" and perhaps because of my interest in my relationship with Christianity more generally. Those who have read me now for some time know of my uneasy relationship with doctrine, and how I prefer instead to focus on holiness (which I believe is another term for developing love, compassion, happiness, and joy within ourselves and within our world).

In its own very small way, I believe that moments such as I experienced this morning are holy, are ways of encountering God whether or not we choose to put that label upon them. In my own experience, I don't know that Christianity always does such a good job of recognizing these as such. Holiness tends to be reserved for moments in church, moments of prayer, moments of sacrament. And don't get me wrong, I believe that these can be very powerful experiences of the divine, if we are open to them.

But I think that more important than what I believe, per se, is whether I am living a life filled with the kinds of qualities noted above. Without them, beliefs are empty. With them, beliefs can be fulfilled.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

present with me

Not so long ago, I was giving a speech to a group of educators about autism. I was explaining that individuals with this disorder tend to lack something called "experience sharing" -- i.e., the understanding that we have our own inner reality of thoughts and experiences, that others have separate inner realities, and that the purpose of most human communication is sharing those realities with each other. So you'll see kids with autism do a lot of asking for things or repeating certain phrases over and over, but their ability to just comment on something (or to build a conversation by responding to someone else's comment) is limited. This is the primary reason why they tend to be delayed in speech, actually.

So we've been working on this ability with our son Patrick (Jacob mastered it long ago), and recently we've seen these big strides. He'll point out things that interest him and say "wow!" or "cool!" He'll point to his brother when he is in distress and say things like "Jacob is sad" with this look of concern on his face. In the last few weeks in particular, he is making it a point when we're cuddling with him to say things like "I love you, Daddy."

Now I know, I know that such moments are meaningful for all parents. The sense of one's heart melting in response to these words from your child is by no means unique. But I think this moment has been particularly meaningful for my wife and I this season because it has meanings on so many levels -- hearing his love for us, seeing his sweet personality emerge, seeing his progress on this thing we call autism, knowing that he is present with us in ways more complex and sophisticated than he has experienced in the past.

It is difficult to describe the joy, gratitude, and love I experience in such moments. And I am reminded at those times when I curse my inability to find a Nintendo Wii for our family this Christmas what it truly means to be given a present.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Yesterday, I believe it was, a sad and angry nineteen year old man walked into a mall in Omaha (about two hours from here), pulled out an assault rifle, and killed eight people before ending his own life. Several more were injured, some seriously.

As details of this young man's life trickle out, we have learned that he left a suicide note, proclaiming to those he cared for that he no longer wished to live and that now he would be "famous."

Our society's sad fascination with the sensationalism has proved him right.

As you might imagine, stories of this are pretty much constant in Nebraska right now. Stories of those who were murdered, of those who survived, stories of the young man and how he'd just lost his girlfriend and his job at McDonald's. Stories of the friends who never thought he'd be capable of something like this.

I'm deeply saddened by all of this. Sad for the victims and their families. Sad for the family of this young man. Sad for the fact that this young man saw this as a way of becoming "famous." Sad that he was right.

It reminds me of a group home I worked at not so terribly long ago now. Two older adolescents who were residing there decided one night that they didn't wish to be there any longer. And even though the doors were unlocked, they feared that the night staff would call the police and prevent their escape. So they grabbed two wooden dowels they had in their closets for hanging their clothes, and beat up the old man who was keeping watch over them that night. Beat him to within inches of taking his life.

I think what saddens (even horrifies) me the most in both stories is the utter, callous disregard for human life. The utter self-preoccupation that allowed them to justify such actions, even if only for the brief period of time it took to commit such acts.

I know not whether our society is becoming more callous. I tend to think that claims that it is lose sight of just what society was capable of in times past. But assuredly we can no longer believe that such callousness is a relic of our past. It is here. It is now. It is fed and nurtured by poverty, hatred, ignorance, and loss.

I'm reading a book right now that discusses the idea of the "antichrist." In that book, the author writes that the "antichrist" is us, any time we hear the gospel and fail to respond.

May God forgive us. And may we grow as a society so that acting in the spirit of Christ is more likely to make us "famous" than what happened in Omaha yesterday.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

An early start

I decided to try and make an early start on my quest for a spiritual home. In other words, I went with Meg to the local ELCA church she joined a year ago or so. Which was interesting in the sense that I had been there with her before, but mostly just to help watch the children. My sense had been that we were going to church as a family, rather than that we were going to join a community in worship.

So on Sunday I tried to focus on the latter (the joining a community in worship bit). And such was not always easy. OK, more accurately, it was nearly impossible much of the time with our 5 and 7 year old, autistic sons making frequent demands for our attention. But in those moments when I could focus on feeling part of a community, it was...fulfilling, is the word I think I'm looking for.

I do not know if this is the church that I will join. I'm not sure how even to pose the questions that would lead to such an answer.

But I do know that something felt right about having a spiritual home, about the sense of togetherness that I felt.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thoughts on Annapolis...

Found this link over at Velveteen Rabbi's blog: here.

I couldn't agree more.


Your Brain is Green

Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance.
You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.
You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Well, as that great philosopher Kermit the Frog once said, "it ain't easy being green!" =)


My friend more cows has challenged me to think of 2008 as a year of finding Christian community.

I hope this doesn't sound utterly silly, but the idea fills me with a bit of trepidation. After having been raised Catholic, becoming excited about religion through my Catholic education in college, and then feeling a bit burned by the whole thing as I entered adulthood...I guess I'm a bit gun-shy of investing myself in a tradition, in a community once again.

Part of this experience of being "burned" comes from my work as a counselor, actually. In the past, there were aspects of Catholicism (e.g., the refusal to ordinate women, teachings on sexual morality, etc.) that I strongly disagreed with -- but it was something of an intellectual matter. When I actually started working as a counselor, I was put face to face with brave people whose lives were actually HARMED by some of these teachings (particularly some of my gay and lesbian clients). The issue was no longer one of intellectual disagreement -- it became one of whether I could support an institution whose teachings HARMED people I cared for.

Complicating matters further, the clients were not exclusively Catholic, but from a variety of Christian backgrounds.

So I am wary. And I find myself wondering what standard to use when considering these matters? Do I consider primarily the official church doctrine? The attitudes of the religious leaders? The extent to which there is a strong "opposition movement" (if the church's official doctrine still holds that homosexuality is sinful)? All of the above (and if so, which factors should weigh most heavily)?

On top of this is the matter of my natural introversion...and, well, a sense from the work I do of how pervasive unhealthiness is. I pray that this does not sound conceited, but after awhile of doing this job...

How to explain it? I think I am confronted so often by dysfunction, by the limitations of others and by my own, it is easy to forget that there is also healthiness. Perhaps that is because health tends to be quieter.

Part of me yearns to discover and trust in that health, to have the faith to invest myself in a community and see past the idiosyncrasies to the more foundational goodness. It is tempting to say that the goodness in such communities is God, but I know I need more than that. I need to feel that the community is fundamentally, albeit in ways limited and human and flawed, good -- about promoting love and charity and justice and compassion.

Hope those thoughts aren't too rambling. Thanks to you all again for your thoughts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

on spirituality and relationality

It is an interesting phenomenon that in my questioning and skepticism of traditional forms of religion, I am met through this strange medium we call "blogosphere" by such kind, probing, and honest religious minds.

All of which is simply an overly wordy preamble to that which I truly intended to say -- namely, thank you all once again for your thoughts and insights.

What intrigues me the most at this point, I think, is the relationship between spirituality and relationality. Because on one basic level, I agree that our spirituality should not separate us from the world, should not focus our energies inward. It should, if it is genuine, connect us in ways ever deeper and more profound -- to our world, to ourselves, to our loved ones, to our communities. A spirituality that fails to do so is either tainted or incomplete, it seems to me.

And yet...

People find depth, meaning, and spiritual growth all the time through various forms of retreat and isolation, it seems to me. People attend retreats, go on long walks, sit in awe of a sunrise, meditate, pray, etc. And while an experience of prayer or of God might be somewhat different in groups or by oneself -- the inescapable truth is that the experience still occurs on the level of the individual (i.e., there is no such thing as a group consciousness). Attuning oneself to God can be shaped by a community, but it remains a process that occurs within each of us as individuals.

So it would seem that the issue of spirituality and relationality is not so much one of whether the spiritual formation occurs within a group setting (although there are advantages to this, noted in my last post) -- but rather one of outcome. That is, that spirituality should enhance our sense of relationship, of interdependence, of connectedness.

So those are my thoughts on the topic for now. I'd love to hear yours, if you would honor me with them.

"If we look deeply enough...we see that our heart is the sun." Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

what I miss (a critical self-reflection?)

OK, so having set out my reasoning for why I am increasingly seeing myself as "spiritual but not religious" (though I agree with natalie's concern about how the word "spiritual" has come to be misused), I think it important for me to think somewhat critically about such a choice.

For there is clearly a downside. Perhaps several of them.

One downside, it seems to me, is the loss of a sense of community, a sense of togetherness in worship. One of my favorite parts of college was attending mass with friends, holding hands together during the "Our Father" and feeling that sense of community. I miss that. And certainly a choice to be "spiritual but not religious" is, in some sense, a choice not to pursue such experiences.

Somewhat tangentially, I also worry that a choice to be "spiritual but not religious" is simply going along with my natural inclination towards introversion, even isolation to some degree. Would it not be better to challenge myself? To experience God as part of a community as well as within the depths of my own experience?

Third, there is the risk mentioned of self-deception -- and the role of community in clarifying what insights might be "from God" and which are the result a kind of narrowness of vision, of my own sinfulness, etc. Would not a community allow for a kind of feedback? A kind of challenge? A potential for growth? (Parenthetically, I was musing about how communities themselves are not perfect in this regard. Community wide beliefs can endorse sexism, racism, and bigotry in various forms.) Still...

All this is to say that, as usual, I have no easy answers to such conundrums. (Actually, I don't think that this is a situation where there is a "right" or "wrong" answer, but rather one in which our hearts might validly choose between several paths.) But I do believe in questioning, in looking at things from various perspectives.

Thanks to you all for the generosity of your time and insights in responding to my previous post.

Friday, November 09, 2007

on spirituality and religion

I recently stumbled across a blog that raised the question of what people mean when they say they are "spiritual but not religious." And the various folk who commented on the topic suggested that such an orientation is generally a negative thing -- e.g., that such individuals want some connection with God (or however they would name their higher power), but are trying trying to avoid having their faith place any demands upon them.

As someone who is increasingly starting to think of myself along those lines, I feel a need to state why it is that I do so. And how I believe that such criticisms are misguided.

At the outset, let me make it clear that I have nothing but the deepest respect for those who take religion seriously, for those who find deep meaning within their religious traditions, and strive to incorporate values from their faith into their lives. My ramblings here are meant solely as a description of my own journey, not as a comment or criticism upon anyone else's journey.

I would begin by noting that faith has its roots in experience. History, theology, and tradition would all be largely meaningless if people did not continue to have some sort of experience of God in their lives. By this I suppose I mean the experiences of awe, wonder, grandeur, love, and gratitude -- or, perhaps better, glimpses of the transcendent reality that such experiences point to. This experience, I believe, is what people speak of when they describe themselves as "spiritual." At least, it is my meaning for that term.

Religion (or, perhaps better, religious philosophy, tradition, and certain forms of theology) attempt to comprehend and systematize such experience. And there is some value, I think, in doing so. We should engage our intellect around such experiences, contemplate the meaning of them, and allow them to challenge us.

Yet I would argue that the fundamental danger of dogma (which seems to be the inevitable outcome of religious tradition) is in the easy assumption that such attempts to systematize and understand such experiences are in some way equal to the experience (or to the reality beyond experience). By so doing, we commit the egregious error of assuming that we can "know" the will of God. And surely all would acknowledge the tremendous evils that have come into the world based upon such assumptions.

For me, choosing to be "spiritual but not religious" is mostly an effort to focus myself primarily on the kind of experiences described above. I strive to grow in compassion, love, understanding, and justice. I hope to be pushed outside of my comfort zone by these experiences, to grow and develop as a human being.

Yet I strive to avoid a sense of certainty that I am "right" in any absolute sense, that my conclusions and understandings of my experience are complete or allow me to judge others. Indeed, I believe that I should never hold onto any belief so strongly that I lose the capacity for compassion towards others. Because in doing so, I would allow my belief to interfere with the more fundamental goals of spirituality -- to grow in love, compassion, peace, justice, and understanding.

My own experience is that there has been much evil from people believing what their religious tradition tells them to believe -- that homosexuality is evil, that women should be subservient to men, etc. I believe that this process can lead people to believe things that they don't want to believe, to insist that they only believe something because they must obey "God's will." In so doing, they trust that God's will is more readily known in the pages of a book than from the experience of their soul.

I also believe that Christian religious traditions grow more true to Christ when they reject or ignore such teachings in the name of adherence to core Christian principles of love, compassion, and justice.

So at least for now, I think I shall remain "spiritual but not religious." I shall choose to keep my focus on the experience itself rather than on efforts to make sense of such experiences. I trust fully neither my own judgments in this regard nor the judgments of others. I trust only that God continues to communicate with the world, that God's call of love for us challenges us to grow in love ourselves.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

on hammers and feelings

There's an old saying (I think it may have been by Maslow) that goes that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

I've been thinking about that saying on a couple of fronts lately. The first thing that reminded me of that saying is a book I'm reading on mindfulness and depression. The basic gist of the book is that depression is generated (or at least exacerbated) when our analytical mind tries to "fix" an inner, distressing feeling. Since the feeling might not have an external cause, the analytical mind might say things like "I shouldn't feel this way" or "I should be over this." This line of reasoning fails to soothe the emotion, and the continued presence of the emotion exacerbates the analytical mind's sense that something is "wrong" and has to be "solved." Thus is created the kind of rumination which often plays a key role in perpetuating depression.

The book's proposed solution is to use mindfulness, to accept the presence of a distressing emotion rather than trying to "fix" the emotion. But what it got me thinking about is how our society trains us to be so analytical, so problem/solution focused. And in so doing, we end up with a tool (and a useful one) -- but one that can lead to counter-productive approaches to some problems. Interesting.

The other area that has had me thinking about Maslow's quote has to do with discipline. Day after day in my practice, I see parents who come to me with "out of control" children, who have been using increasingly severe forms of discipline in response to their child's outbursts. And I talk to them about how discipline is great for setting clear limits and providing a motivation to improve a child's behavior. But so often that isn't the problem. The child knows what's expected, what's "right" and "wrong." And they wish they could stop getting into trouble. The problem lies in that their mind becomes rigid and inflexible -- unable to think of others' perspectives or alternative ways to get their needs met. The child's inflexibility is met by their parent's inflexibility and outburst.

So I work with them on what Ross Greene calls "Plan B" (which is just a fancy term for using collaborative problem solving). And we talk about how to make it work so that it isn't simply "giving in" or "having to have their way," but actually siding with their child and working together to solve the problem.

I'm always struck by the frequency with which parents are resistant to trying this approach. They have so much fear of "losing" in some supposed contest with their child. They seem not to realize that they are already "losing" in the only areas that matter -- in terms of outcome, trust, communication, and relationship. But, again, this way of thinking stems from the fact that they feel they only have this one tool (of discipline) with which to address the child's poor behaviors.

I'm reminded that I, too, surely have my own limitations in this regard, times when I fail to realize, recognize, or use alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. I pray that I may learn to be open to more and more such tools.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Just thought I'd share a picture of my two boys in their Halloween finest. Patrick is the intrepid firefighter, while Jacob was originally planning to go as "Diego" (from the popular kid's show) -- but ultimately refused to don the costume, and instead chose to go as Elmo.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I just finished reading the book "Fatal Revenant" by Stephen R. Donaldson yesterday. It's really, really good.

Reading Donaldson's books always feels like something of a time warp for me, actually. I read the first book in the series of adventures involving Thomas Covenant when I was maybe in the sixth or seventh grade. I remember sitting in a tent at Boy Scout camp, pulling out my flashlight at night to read another chapter.

Which, you'd think, would mean that these were adventurous but fairly simple books, filled with reasonably straight-forward characters and conflicts. Not so. Actually, I think one of the reasons the books drew my attention was that they confused me. Thomas Covenant was my first real exposure to an anti-hero. He is, at least in the beginning, a deeply flawed man, pulled into another universe and hailed as it's savior. The good people of this fictitious "Land" refuse to judge him, even though he acts abominably at times, refuses to acknowledge that the Land is even real, and repeatedly refuses to be of any real help to them despite their peril. In an effort to maintain his sanity, he even refers to himself as "the unbeliever."

And yet...this flawed man comes to love the Land and its people. And in the end he saves the world, facing and overcoming perhaps the most vivid literary description of evil incarnate I have ever come across.

The stories are vividly imagined, complex, and increasingly sophisticated. The characters struggle with self-doubt, with the threat that their choices are unwittingly serving evil, with despair and hope and redemption. I enjoy them much more than, say, Tolkien's works (though I really enjoy Tolkien) -- because in some fundamental sense the characters seem more real.

They're a good real. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Things have not been well in the hearts and souls of Nebraskans lately. A beloved coach was fired several years ago because the new Athletic director, Steve Pederson, said that he would not stand to see Nebraska football "...gravitate towards mediocrity." Mind you, the team's record that year was 9-3.

We haven't had a year with that many wins since.

And to add insult to injury, Nebraska has suffered devastating losses already this year, most recently at a home game to Missouri. If I recall right, it was Nebraska's worst home loss in nearly fifty years.

So yesterday the athletic director was fired.

Today the legendary Nebraska football coach, Tom Osborne, was hired to replace him -- at least on an interim basis.

Understand that for Nebraska football fans, this is basically like saying that Jesus has returned to earth solely for the purpose of reviving your troubled and beloved football program. Such has been the level of excitement in our state.

It might be tempting to use this as a moment of reflection, to ask about our state's (even our nation's) priorities. To wonder why we react this way to a new athletic director, but hardly even notice if a new academic director is put in place.

But at least for now, I look at the faces in the stores and gas stations beaming with hope and pride, and I think that today has been a good day.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I've been thinking today about this metaphor for therapy with some people, people who tend to stuff their feelings. The metaphor goes that feelings are like water pipes in a home. If the home goes a long time without being used, the water that comes out of the pipes when the water is first turned on is...well, let's just say, unpleasant. And it stays that way for awhile. But the only way to clear up the problem is to let the water run.

Feelings, in this metaphor, are like that water system in the old house. If we stuff them, if we don't let ourselves have them, then what emerges when they bubble to the surface is pain or anger. And we have to let that feeling continue, to face them and keep feeling, in order to eventually get to the point where more positive feelings can emerge.

I found myself thinking about this metaphor not long ago as I sat with someone struggling with this kind of issue. And I thought about the strange position I was in -- asking them to feel pain, asking them to face the thing they'd been avoiding for years.

But as I saw them do so, tears streaming down their face, being fully real in some important sense for the first time in a long time...I was simply awe struck by their courage, by their strength. It reminded me of that Biblical phrase my friend more cows has shared with me -- about strength being perfected in weakness.

Indeed it is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

on miracles

"The miracle is not walking on thin air or walking on water. The miracle is walking on the earth." Thich Nhat Hanh

So around 8:30 tonight, I noticed that it was strangely quiet downstairs. This is usually a sign that Patrick is either already asleep or tired out enough that he is ready for sleep, so I went downstairs to find him curled up on the couch. His eyes were drowsy. He had his collection of favorite kid show DVD's in a pile near his feet, as if it were his particular kind of unleavened bread -- ready just in case of the need for quick flight.

When I recommended that we go upstairs to go to sleep, he shrugged off my offer to carry him upstairs -- instead saying simply "here" and placing his prized pile of DVD's in my arms. So I traveled the distance to his bedroom with my son and his prized videos, and when we got there he said simply "lay down with me."

Laying down next to him and holding his hand, I could feel the tension in his muscles relax and his breathing slow. And I was struck at how I often marvel at his moments of growth, of development. And perhaps it is right that I do so. But the true miracle is not his growth or his progress. It is his simple presence next to me, breathing, drifting slowly to sleep.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

sick day

So my seven-year-old, Patrick, got up at 3:00 last night, and didn't go back to sleep. He complained of stomach pain, and later that morning, developed diarrhea. His school has a policy that he has to be free of such symptoms for 24 hours before returning to school -- so his ongoing bouts with this throughout today make it apparent that he will not be going to school tomorrow, either.


The unfortunate timing here is that I was supposed to have a bit of free time (or possibly paperwork time) tomorrow morning. Now (unless things change) I'll be either monitoring him to make sure he makes it to the toilet on time -- or changing a great many clothes throughout the morning.

Upon reflection, however, I think that my reaction to this minor setback speaks more about my sense of falling behind a bit at work rather than any major difficulty monitoring him. Heck, I seem to get so little time with him now that he's back in school. I think I will even enjoy it (the parts that don't involve cleaning fecal material, anyway). I may have to come up with a plan for getting more caught up with evaluation paperwork. Hmm....

Peace to you all.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

8 random things

My friend earthbound spirit tagged me for this meme. I have been shamefully late in responding. My apologies.

For those who might be interested, here's 8 random things about me.

1. My golf game has much improved this summer. My wife and I played "best ball" (where each of us hits the ball from one location and we play the better of the two shots), and we golfed a 38. This may have little meaning to a non-golfer, but par is 36. We shot a double bogey on the first hole (two over par), a bogey on the second (one over part), and then six straight pars before finishing with a birdie (one under par). Never in my life did I think I'd shoot a round under 40, playing best ball or not. This makes me happy.

2. The only thing that is missing from my golf happiness right now is that my older brother (who is living in Japan with his family) isn't coming home this summer. We have something of a golf rivalry going.

3. I'm definitely a "work to live" kind of guy, although I generally enjoy my job.

4. I'm regularly flooded by requests for money from all kinds of liberal causes nowadays. I think it started when I decided to make regular donations to the DNC. Ah, learning experiences from the Department of Unintended Consequences....

5. I'm currently planning a winter trip to Las Vegas with my wife, my wife's twin sister, my sister (and her husband), and two of my very good friends from college. We plan to golf, see a show, and hang out. Spending time with such good people (and getting away from the cold of the Midwest in January) seems much like heaven.

6. I think I learn as much from my patients as they learn from me. Perhaps more.

7. I believe I've learned as much about God from Eastern writings and philosophies as I have from Western ones.

8. I'm really very excited about the upcoming release of Stephen R. Donaldson's new book in the "Thomas Covenant" saga. I read the first book when I was like in the sixth grade. At Boy Scout Camp (don't get me started on my feelings towards that particular organization...). He's a genius, though for a variety of reasons I don't think those particular books will ever be translated into movies, etc.

"the big picture"

For whatever reason, I found myself giving a lot of "big picture" comments at work recently. To a mother who feels that her entire family mistreats her, I pointed out that she spends her entire time at home either avoiding her family or in conflict with them (i.e., so that in the "big picture" their behavior might be a reaction to the fact that they only see a critical side of her). By focusing solely on the injustices of each particular situation, she was missing that bigger picture, was failing to see how her actions contributed to the difficulties at home.

I hope that this kind of advice is helpful. But I must admit that I find such reflections to also be a bit humbling. It forces me to reflect on how I must sometimes miss that "big picture" as well, be it with my kids, my wife, my clients. Which I know is partly just being human.

Still, I find myself thinking about how easy it is to set aside feedback we receive, perhaps especially negative or critical feedback. It's message is difficult to hear, and certainly such feedback is not always entirely true (occasionally not true at all). Still, I wonder how often we disregard truths about ourselves out of convenience, out of fear, or out of some effort to protect our ego. How often I do that.

Such clues are perhaps often our earliest and best warning signs that we're missing the big picture in some important sense. I pray that I might become more aware of such signals, more willing to contemplate them, more willing to listen to whatever call to change might stem from them. That, I think, is strength. And wisdom.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Because my wife and I both work full-time, we've hired some people to work with our two boys on their autism this summer. Which is cool, and the boys are actually making nice progress on their objectives.

A few days ago, I decided to go home for lunch. I hadn't packed myself anything to eat, and a sandwich just sounded better that day than my various other (fast food) options. And the lunch went great. Patrick was overjoyed to have me there, he helped make the sandwich, and playfully took bites of it as he sat next to me at the table.

It was so fun that I decided to go back the next day. Again, a truly wonderful time.

But the reports from the young woman working with Patrick were that he was largely inattentive for the rest of the afternoon -- that he kept talking about wanting to go and pick up my wife and I from work.

So, sadly, I probably won't be joining him for lunch for awhile. I'll be interested to monitor how his afternoons go, to see if his inattention was due to seeing me or possibly due to something else (fatigue, maybe?).

But in any case, I'm a bit disappointed. I hope to use this to make sure we really enjoy our time together after the work day is done.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


OK, here's a pretty basic axiom of parenting young children: any night that you can go without having your children shower you with vomit is a pretty good night.

Last night was not so much a good night, as say, one where I had to debate between getting a few extra minutes of sleep (by toweling myself off and crawling back into bed smelling of said vomit) and taking a quick shower.

I chose the former, probably to the dismay of my wife.

Then again, I had been up with my son for about three or four hours prior to this incident. Worrying about what his complaints of stomach pain meant, whether I was giving him the right medicine, whether this was some kind of new manifestation of some food intolerances. Checking the internet for signs of how we'd know if it were appendicitis or an ulcer or the more common NAPS (Neurotically Anxious Parent Syndrome).

Interestingly enough, this child who was up half the night with stomach complaints, perked right up after spewing the contents of his stomach onto me. So much so, in fact, that he refused to go back to sleep and ultimately convinced me to let him go downstairs to watch "Disney channel."

So I escorted him downstairs, turned on the channel of the much beloved programs, and pondered the whole shower decision as I walked upstairs. But turning around briefly to check on him one more time, seeing the look of joy on his face as he followed the antics of Mickey and Co., I had the experience of feeling immense love for someone who had just filled my senses with the sounds and smells of stomach acid.

And as fatigue set heavily upon me, I prayed that my wife could find the same graciousness for me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


OK, this just in on the "what the f@#$ is this guy thinking" front: the official doctrine of the Catholic hierarchy is that other Christian denominations are "not true Churches" (apparently because they fail to have apostolic succession that can be traced back to Peter & Paul). This teaching was a reaffirmation of an earlier statement "Dominus Iesus" (which he wrote in 2000 before becoming Pope), which held that "...other Christian denominations...were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the 'means of salvation.'"

I find it difficult to put into words how profoundly depressing this development is for me as a Catholic. Talk about putting the ecumenical movement with other traditions back, say, a century or more. Jeez.

Though I know I have no personal responsibility for this action by the current Pope, I feel compelled to offer an apology to my very dear brothers and sisters from other religious denominations. This statement by the Pope does not speak for me. It does not speak for the vast majority of Catholics I know.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Feast of St. Benedict

This last Sunday was the Feast of St. Benedict within the Catholic tradition. I wasn't aware of this fact when I made plans to travel up to my alma mater (in Central Minnesota) with a good friend of mine. But when I learned of this fact by attending Mass on Sunday morning, it seemed appropriate. My alma mater is a Catholic, Benedictine university, after all. It seemed right to recognize the recognize how this tradition formed me through my college years.

I think my first impression of returning to that place is just how beautiful that part of the country is. Now don't get me wrong, Nebraska has it's own kind of loveliness, with its prairie and blue sky. But the section of Minnesota where I went to school seems almost to be bubbling over with grandeur. The hills, the dense rows of trees, the lakes. I had almost forgotten it's ability to take my breath away.

My second impression was how returning to my alma mater was as much a tour of memories and emotions as it was a tour of a physical place. Sure, there's new buildings, new people, and the curiously young student population (assuredly, I was never so young when I attended college!). But the sights and sounds and smells mostly gave rise to a wash of memories -- of friends, of joys, of losses, of moments of insight.

Somehow by reliving those memories, by spending time with old friends again, and by attending Mass at a place where there was a true sense of inclusion and belonging -- I left the weekend with a deeper sense of myself, a kind of profound awareness of who I am, of where I come from. It was, in a sense, a kind of spiritual homecoming.

I'm so deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to attend that weekend. Grateful to my wife for watching our boys so I could go, grateful to the friends who made the weekend such a good experience, grateful to the monks and staff at my alma mater for being so welcoming and gracious.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wellstone bill

Hello all!

As some of you may know, insurance industry discrimination against those with mental illnesses is a major problem in our society. I've chosen to become a "citizen cosponsor" of a bill intended to begin addressing this problem. I would urge you to consider doing likewise.

End Health Discrimination

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Early this afternoon, I had an unexpected opportunity to get my hair cut before I had to pick up my kids. So in an effort to get a conversation going, I was telling my five year old about my haircut.

Now, you have to understand that haircuts are VERY big deals for my sons. This is mostly because they loathe haircuts with a great passion, and historically have engaged in much of the wailing and the gnashing of teeth at any attempt to trim their hair to a more respectable and presentable length. My wife and I have therefore been reduced to outright bribery so that they will participate in this activity -- we will buy them a notebook, a video, let them watch a show, etc.

So after I tell J, my 5-year-old, about my haircut, he says "Yay! Great job, Dad, I'm so proud of you!" And the kicker, "Now you can watch golf!"

Which cracked me up. What with his little mind trying to think of rewards for me.

But then he tells me that he wants a haircut himself. And I tell him that he doesn't need one because he only had a haircut a couple of weeks ago. But he persists, so I ask, "J, why do you want a haircut?"

And Jacob responds: "I want my hair to look like you."

To which I inform him, "But I'm going bald." And J assures me, "But I want to go bald!"

I could have informed him, I guess, that a brief perusal of hair patterns in the adult males on both sides of his family assures him that this is a likely possibility. Instead I just laughed. "Maybe later, J. Maybe later."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"a little bit off course"

One of the interesting things I'm learning about as I continue to explore the RDI program is the notion of regulation. The idea here is that we are only quite rarely perfectly "on track" or "on course" with what we're doing. Whether it's traveling to a destination, monitoring a conversation we're having with somebody, or trying to get homework done. We're probably only completely "on course" say 2% of the time. Why? Because we wander, we get distracted, or we fail to pick up on a cue soon enough (e.g., that we're boring someone).

The RDI program tries to make two points about this: (1) we have to teach kids with autism that being a little "off course" is OK, is tolerable, is the way things are most of the time, and (2) that success doesn't come from being "on course" 100% of the time, but from continual, moment-by-moment readjustments when we're getting too far off course.

So, for instance, we need to realize when our "joking" with a partner crosses the line and they're getting offended. Or when our fascination discussion of golf minutiae has crossed the line into boring someone to tears. Whatever the specific situation, the point is to realize that things are going off course and to make an adjustment, to get back on course.

I find myself wondering if this isn't a far better way of thinking about relationships, about spirituality.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

of golf and life, part II

All this talk about golf has reminded me of a true story.

My father taught me how to play golf. He wasn't the best of golf teachers, to be honest. My golf game was pretty pathetic for a number of years until I actually took some lessons. But he taught me the game and was a patient companion when my shots went astray and I had to go off looking for them in the woods.

He loved to golf, my father. You could see it in his face. His father (my grandfather) was a pretty good golfer as well, I believe. We used to hear all about the time he hit a hole in one when we were growing up. My grandfather taught my father the game, and my father taught it to me.

Later in life, my father developed Pick's disease, a progressive dementia somewhat similar to Alzheimer's. As the disease progressed, we began to involve my father less in things. He struggled with issues of continence for one thing, and he grew increasingly less able to communicate with us about what he wanted.

But the last summer of his life, we took him with us to the golf course. He rode around in the golf cart with my three brothers and I -- and on the 8th or 9th hole, he became agitated. He got up out of the cart and started walking around.

I wish I could tell you that I (what with my finely honed clinical skills and all) picked up on what he wanted. But it was actually my younger brother with Asperger's Disorder that realized -- my father was asking to play golf with us.

So we gave him a ball, a tee, and a club. And he stood up there and hit the ball. The first shot was unimpressive. But the second shot flew far and straight, and as I cheered his effort I heard a certain, familiar grunt of satisfaction from him.

It was the first recognizable effort at communication I had heard from him in some time. It was also probably the last, now that I think about it.

Golf has this way of being a game about family, about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters -- in ways that other sports don't quite seem to match. Perhaps that's because golf can be played late into our adulthood, allowing us to continue that experience together as we grow older. Perhaps its because the relative slow pace of the game allows for communication and reflection amidst the course of the round.

Perhaps for me its because the slow and quiet nature of the game fit so well with the gentle and quiet nature of my father.

I like to think that somewhere in heaven my father is playing a round of golf with my grandfather, that they're laughing and joking with each other and thinking fondly of us. I miss my Dad. The game of golf, in its own small way, gives me a chance to feel connected to him again. Whether it's recalling the way he'd say "dag nabbit!" when he hit a bad shot, or his quiet satisfaction when he hit a good one. Or the patient way he'd listen and give advice when I was struggling.

Golf was his gift to me. I look forward to the day when I can give it to my sons.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

of golf and life

My wife is at a MOPS meeting this evening. The boys are asleep. I probably should be doing something productive.

I hate productive.

So for right now, I am choosing to blog instead.

Hmm...OK, blogging. I'm blogging. With the "blog" and the "ing" and the other little "g" in the middle that mysteriously disappears when you separate those two phonemes.

I would be greatly assisted in this effort if I had something noteworthy about which to blog. But as it turns out, mostly what I'm thinking about right now is golf.

Yep. Golf.

So today I went to the driving range when I had a free hour. And I noticed an interesting pattern. When I was hitting my hybrid clubs (basically, replacements for the 3 & 4 irons which are notoriously difficult to hit well), the ball went fairly consistently straight. Yeah! Pretty much the same thing with my 5-wood (which is somewhat anachronistically labelled, in that such clubs no longer contain any actual product from a tree).

But I digress.

So when I pick up my 8-iron, does it go straight? No. No it does not. Instead, it goes at about a 40 degree angle to the right of where I'm aiming.

Frustrating? Yep. Mind you, clubs like the 8-iron, with their high degree of loft, are supposed to be among the most accurate of clubs, the easiest to hit straight. But do these particular laws of physics assist me? No. They are stubborn and oppositional, worthy of curses too profane for repitition in the blogosphere.

So then I'm back to trying to figure out what's going wrong. Am I forgetting to start my downswing using my hips? Possibly. Am I releasing early enough? Another possible error. Am I failing to release completely? Could be the case. Keeping my elbows too far apart and opening the clubface? Maybe.

So I work on all of these things individually with some success. But it seems like one breaks down when I'm working on the others. So what is called for is applying all three interventions at once -- which, when you're still trying to master them individually is a virtual impossibility.

What this leaves me with, sadly, is an inconsistent iron game. And basically having to accept this predicament while I work on these skills individually, strengthening them by themselves so that they feel automatic, so they can be combined with the other skills.


This is one of those ways that golf so closely mimics life at times. There are times when it's easy, and a small change produces big results. Then there are times when you have to accept that you are where you are, to strengthen small things without immediate results -- hoping for a payout in the future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Every once in awhile, I find an album just resonates with me. Often it's a new album I've discovered, and I get entranced by discovering new layers of meaning when I hear the songs a few times. But this time it's actually an album I've had for six months or so, "Plans" by the group Death Cab for Cutie.

Just to give a glimpse of why I like the album so much, I thought I'd post some bits of lyrics from the album I'm particularly fond of. For instance, there's the song "Your Heart is an Empty Room," where we find the lyrics:

"Home's face: how it ages when you're away
Spring blooms and you find the love that's true
But you don't know what now to do
Cause the chase is all you know
And she stopped running months ago"

And then there's the song, "I'll Follow You Into the Dark," with the lyrics:

"In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son, fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back"

And basically the entire song "What Sarah Said":

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breathes as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today
As each descending peak of the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?

Love it. I just wish I had a way for the music to play on the blog so you all would get the full effect.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Not too long ago, I was explaining to my five year old (he just had a birthday a couple of days ago) about what I do for a job.

So today he was telling me that he was a "Daddy" and had to go to work.

"What do you do at work?" I asked.

"I help people with their problems," he explained. He went on to report that some people are "sad" and he wanted to help with their problems so that they would be "happy."

"What do you do to help them feel better?" I asked.

"Umm...I play hide and go seek. That will help them feel better," he replied confidently.

And as I looked down at his little face and thought about the joy he has when we play that game together, I realized that what he said was really very true. "Yes," I told him. "Yes, I think it would."

Thursday, May 10, 2007


As I understand it, Pope Benedict XVI has recently endorsed the practice of bishops who are excommunicating Catholic politicians in Latin America who have voted in favor of abortion rights.

Some years ago now, the bishop of the Lincoln diocese here in Nebraska excommunicated a whole list of Catholics based solely on their membership in certain political organizations.

I've heard it said that the Catholic church is a private entity and can essentially do whatever it likes. And I suppose that is true. But with every bone-headed, "we're right, you're wrong, what's the point of dialogue" pronouncement like this, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to continue to think of myself as Catholic.

I yearn for the day when love, compassion, and openness become more important to the church than doctrinal correctness, than enforcing some narrow vision of proper belief.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Friendship (an attempt at poetry...with apologies to anyone who is actually good at poetry...)

Reaching out across distance
Perspectives shared
Each light reflected in the other

Not melding into one
But unified, intensified
Separating at last, but whole once more

Monday, May 07, 2007

reflections on a funeral

I was making a short trip to go get lunch today at our local bagel shop (mmm...turkey club sandwich on a swiss melt bagel...), and I was turning over in my mind various things have been stressing me out and causing me unhappiness lately. I travelled several blocks this way and then the traffic simply stopped.

Which, believe me, is rather unusual in a town this size. Even if it had been the busiest traffic of the day, outright traffic stops are extremely rare.

So this particular novelty caught my attention, and I began to look around, trying to make sense of what was happening. There was a police car about four or five car lengths ahead, lights flashing, blocking traffic. An accident of some kind? No. The officer was outside his car, standing at attention, while a fairly long line of cars proceeded to cross from the other side of the street into a local cemetary on my right.

A funeral.

I'm not aware of any particularly newsworthy deaths in our town. But I could tell from just how many cars there were that whoever died must have been greatly cared for, must have meant a great deal to a great many.

It brought my mind back to the death of my father a couple of years ago now, and my heart was suddenly filled with compassion to those who are suffering today. I was struck by how easy it is to get caught up in my own concerns, to forget (or overlook) the fact that deep suffering knows no borders, is shared by young and old, rich and poor, liberal and conservative.

I find that these kind of insights give me a deeper sense of perspective, put whatever concerns I might have in a more helpful context, and somehow make whatever is bothering me less crucial and therefore more manageable.

As the procession came to a close, I drove on to the little bagel shop, pausing internally to pray that God would grant some sense of peace and comfort to those families. I hope that I can keep the lesson their presence taught me today alive.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Daddy, go sleep

Nighttime at our house tends to follow a fairly straightforward routine for our boys, most of the time. There's dinner, playtime, baths, videos, brushing teeth, and the final ritual of actually getting into bed and (with any luck) getting them to sleep.

Usually, my seven year old autistic son initiates this last step with the words "Daddy, go sleep" or "Daddy, lay down with me." Which, I must admit, I have tended to view with mixed feelings at times. It is terribly sweet that he finds contact with me so comforting, yet I have tended to cut this time short as much as I could. There were just other things that seemed to need doing -- whether that was keeping up on some TV show, getting some paperwork done for work, or make a run to the grocery store.

So tonight my seven-year-old is playing this variation of hide and seek with me, and he gets to a point where he realizes that he's tired. He looks up at me and says "Daddy, go sleep" -- and as he does so he reaches up with his hand and gently touches my cheek. I could be totally reading into it, of course, but to me it seemed to be his way of communicating how much it meant to him to have me there, to just be present with him as he falls off to sleep.

So tonight I didn't cut the time short. I stayed there with him, observing the gentle rhythm of his breathing as he slowly drifted off to sleep. His little face seeming perfectly content, perfectly at peace. And I realized as I gazed upon him that this peace was contagious, that I left the room enriched in ways that grocery runs, paperwork, and television could not provide.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a green notebook

At my four year old's preschool, they did an assignment not too long ago. The kids were asked to consider what they would buy if they were to find a pot of gold. And there were the typical responses, I would suppose -- a pony, a race car, a Nintendo Wii. My son's response? "A green notebook."

Mind you, my son is something of a Blue's Clues fanatic (thus the love of notebooks on which to store the "clues"), and green is his favorite color. So a green notebook probably does strike him as the closest thing to heaven he knows. Even if he does already have a plethora of notebooks (and of a broad selection of colors) at home.

When my wife and I first saw this little assignment, we were amused and perhaps just a little concerned about whether his fascination with Blue's Clues was going just a tad bit too far. But looking back on it now, I find his response humbling.

Perhaps this is because my own choices in the pretend scenario would be so different, so relatively extravagant. I'd pay off the house, perhaps, or buy a new car (a Prius, I tell myself -- hoping to assuage my inner guilt about the environmental impact of purchasing a new car). I'd buy some land and set up a business devoted to serving children with autism. Or I'd establish a school designed to teach dynamic intelligence to children with special needs.

All good things, I suppose.

But my son's response to that question reminds me to take joy in the simple joys of my day to day life -- to relish phone calls from good friends, the smiles and pure excitement my kids give me when I come home from work, the joy of seeing my boys grow and progress in life.

These are my green notebooks. I hope that I never become so caught up in my "plans" that I lose sight of what is truly important.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I challenged someone today. I told a teenage client that they would find more happiness from going out of their way to give back to a friend than they do manipulating them to get what they want all the time. In fact, I bet them it would be the highlight of their week.

This particular person looked at me like I was crazy.

Which, now that I think of it, is a perfectly reasonable response from their view of how the world works. When relationships are thought of as comptetitions for scant resources, when the world is one big zero sum game with clearly defined winners and losers, then manipulation begins to make sense as a strategy in life.

But, of course, the world is more complex than that. Attempts to manipulate others to get what we want end up distancing us from everyone who once supported us. Our very ability to get our needs met depends upon our ability to give, to maintain our friendships. Our happiness depends on the happiness of others. And theirs upon ours.

Which got me thinking about much that is wrong in our world and in our country. Like how we divide ourselves politically into camps and celebrate our "enemy's" defeats as much as the victories of our side. Like how so many people marginalize or demonize groups of people based on race or economic status or legal history or sexual orientation.

We forget, somehow, that our happiness depends on the happiness of others, even of others with whom we powerfully disagree.

I pray that we come to more fully realize the wisdom in Christ's teaching that we should love even our enemies.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

an update (and an apology)

I feel somehow as if I've been neglectful, what with my paucity of posts of late. My apologies.

Without meaning to make excuses, it has been a rather busy time of late. Last weekend I attended the wedding of E, whom I referred to as "the one" in a previous post. Then on the Thursday and Friday before this weekend I was gone at an autism spectrum disorders (ASD) conference where I spoke to teachers, parents, and others working with children suffering from ASD's.

Did I finish my presentation well ahead of time so that I could take it easy for the few days before the conference? Did I have a few bits put together ahead of time and had to finish the damn thing the morning of the speech (leading to a rather hectic trip to a local copy store to make transparencies)? Well, yes.

But despite my abhorrent lack of preparation, the speech itself went well and I received generally positive feedback. My only concern looking back on it is that the point of view and recommendations I put forward (which focused on addressing underlying cognitive deficits such as cognitive flexibility, episodic memory, experience sharing, etc.) were in stark contrast to the perspectives of the other major speakers (who focused on behavioral objectives like "eye contact" and reducing tantrums). So while my speech went well and was well received, I worry that some of the listeners might have ended up confused as to what to think when they heard such different points of view.

As far as the previous weekend is concerned, the wedding was lovely. It was held at little Swedenborgian church that was the perfect size for the number of people in attendance. And the ceremony's focus on marriage was truly inspiring -- emphasizing the importance of joy, of mutual happiness, of being a good partner for each other.

I have to admit that attending that wedding was an occasion of ambivalence for me. Yet it was good, I think. Good to see E so happy. Good to know that she is with someone who treats her so well. Good to have that sense of finality.

Peace to you all, my friends.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

I was tagged by my friend, More Cows, to do this meme. So here goes...

Six Weird Things About Me:

1. I'm a huge Sci-Fi fan. I love Star Wars, most of the Star Trek series, the new Battlestar Galactica, and am a HUGE fan of the (sadly) cancelled TV show, Firefly. IMHO, the new Battlestar Galactica and Firefly are the two best shows of all time.

2. Along with my college roommate, I wrote and submitted a script for the TV show Star Trek: Voyager. Our script was entitled "Compassion" and involved the intrepid crew's encounter with an alien culture of telepaths whose world was decimated by the Borg (Lost? That's OK, it just means you're not as big a Sci-Fi geek as I am!) Anyway, the script was rejected, but I still think the episode was quite good. I really enjoyed the process of putting a script together, and the pleasant daydream of leaving this crazy job as a psychologist and becoming a hollywood script writer (oh the glory!)

3. "Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory" scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. Who the heck were those Oompa Loompa guys, anyway?!

4. I have a strange fondness for certain kinds of action movies. Or, perhaps more accurately, for mocking said movies. Usually just by pointing out things like how hard it is for the bad guys to get good help, how the bad guys always seem to always have terrible aim, etc. An old friend of mine and I used to watch the "American Ninja" movies in high school and laugh hysterically.

5. Like my father, my sweet tooth seems to go in cycles. For awhile, I just really crave Breyer's Natural Vanilla. Then for awhile, I'll crave a Butterfinger blizzard from Dairy Queen. Then maybe it'll be something else. But it seems to last for like a week or two before I move on to something else. Even I don't entirely get this one. To a lesser extent, I go through cycles like this with other kinds of foods as well.

6. I'm an Eagle Scout, but I generally dislike camping, hiking, and "roughing it" kinds of activities. Why, you ask, did I become an Eagle Scout? Well, my father was a scout master. My older brother was an Eagle Scout. My younger brother eventually became one as well. It was an expectation in my family and a way of making my Dad happy, I guess.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I had a discussion with someone recently about anxiety and how it was affecting their life. We discussed how anxiety can becoming consuming, about how courage is like a muscle and if we're not using it regularly (pushing ourselves, taking risks) then the muscle weakens and is harder to use when we need it.

And then there was this thought: "You should never let anxiety keep you from doing something when you're acting out of love. Anxiety is actually pretty useful and good at stopping us when we're about to do something stupid...but when it keeps us from acting out of love, it becomes a prison."

Peace to you all.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I've been reading over and over about the White House calling Democrats "irresponsible" for the Iraq war funding bill they passed (that included a time-frame for withdrawal), and for leaving Washington for a Spring break after passing the bills.


How about getting us into an extremely ill-conceived war, bumbling the execution of said war with mind-numbing incompetence, and leaving us stuck in the middle of a civil war that threatens to broaden to the wider middle east region?

How's that for irresponsible?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Thoughts from a calendar (part 2)

"All of the wonderful things that you are looking for -- happiness, peace and joy -- can be FOUND inside of you. You do not need to LOOK anywhere else."

Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, April 02, 2007


1. OK, so I ran across a news headline this morning: "Venomous box jellyfish have human-like eyes." I was just really struck by how poetic that sounded. Like Zen poetry, maybe. Hmm...

2. I was having a discussion with a fellow psychologist I work with about "self esteem" and he surprised me a little bit by telling me that he doesn't really like the notion of self-esteem. Instead, he prefers to think about Bandura's term "self-efficacy." In other words, he prefers to focus his work on whether people perceive themselves as capable of having an impact on their world (social and otherwise). Interesting...

3. We also talked about the idea that progress in therapy is not so much substituting one belief about ourselves for another -- but creating a better ability to realistically appraise ourselves, and then to take actions in our lives designed to improve our self-image or maintain a generally positive self-image. The notion here is that it is no more healthy to have an unchanging but positive self-image (e.g., thinking positively about oneself while treating others poorly) than it is to have an unchanging but negative one (e.g., as in the case of depression). The goal should be to have a self-image that is flexible, that we regulate through our thoughts and actions.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

God is like...

My dear sister was kind enough to send this to me. My only hesitation in posting it is the lack of inclusive language, a whole, I think it's a cute example of how kids can look at things from a fresh perspective. So enjoy!

God is like.

Television commercials

A fifth grade teacher in a Christian school asked her class to look at TV commercials and see if they could use them in some way to communicate ideas about God.
Here are some of the results: scroll down.

God is like.

He works miracles.

God is like.
He's got a better idea.

God is like.
He's the real thing.

God is like.

He cares enough to send His very best.

God is like.
He gets the stains out that others leave behind.

God is like.
He brings good things to life.

God is like.
He has everything.

God is like.
Try Him, you'll like Him

God is like.
You can't see Him, but you know He's there.

God is like.
He's ready when you are.

God is like.
You're in good hands with Him.

God is like.
VO-5 Hair Spray
He holds through all kinds of weather.

God is like.


Aren't you glad you have Him? Don't you wish everybody did?

God is like.
Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor ice will keep Him from His appointed destination.