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.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

dream and reality

I'm seeing a lot of commercials these days from various States advertising themselves as vacation spots. You've may have seen the same ones. The scenes with mountain climbers. The golf courses. The required "fun in the water" scenes.

Which is all fine and good when the scene is elsewhere. I mean, when you're living in Nebraska and its January and the temperature is below freezing, a trip to Arizona seems quite nice. Or North Carolina. Or Florida.

But then you see the vacation spots from the places you actually live. Seeing ads for Nebraska or South Dakota or North Dakota, I just find myself with a "yeah, right" response. You know, like the sarcastic "yeah, right, THAT'S what it's like to live here!" The idyllic vision of life confronts the pointedly less idyllic reality of life.

There is so much illusion around us. Illusions about marriage. Illusions about sex. Illusions about romance. Illusions about politics.

Part of what is striking about these illusions, I find, is the promise of easy happiness, that all your problems will melt away into some sort of Disney movie ending if only you can find that perfect mate, that ideal drug, that ideal drink, that ideal vacation spot.

How often do I meet with teenage girls from unfortunate backgrounds seeking happiness through a boyfriend? Or a young man seeking happiness from some unhealthy substance or another? How often do I see people coming to me with their disillusionments, getting what they thought they wanted yet facing the more complex realities of, say, romance, marriage, occupation, or life in general?

We so eagerly seek out the illusion.

Of course, the illusions sell us a bill of goods, don't they? This notion of easy happiness, I mean. Far more difficult, perhaps, to look within, to build our own capacity to bring joy to others. Far more demanding to ask ourselves to grow, to develop -- to face life directly for what it is and to find and grow the goodness within it.

It is so much simpler to look for a relationship than to grow in compassion, so much less demanding to use a drug than to acknowledge our selfishness, so much easier to get a job than to expand our ability to really understand people deeply.

I long for a society with different priorities, with different messages for our children.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"the one"

I had one of those surreal moments this week. I received an invitation to a wedding from "E."

E was the unwitting object of my affections when I was in the seventh grade, my first crush. I remember gazing at her across the classroom, wishing she would notice me. In high school, I remember looking up at her with longing as she sang the lead in "Oklahoma." And just this profound sense of futility about ever getting to know her.

I remember my excitement when we both attended a retreat together at the end of my senior year of high school. I remember driving back together, talking, wishing, hoping. Keeping in touch with each other when we left for different colleges, driving up outrageous phone bills I had to somehow explain to my parents. I remember joining a mock trial team and competing simply because the competition was held where she went to school.

I remember vividly the first time I professed my love to her, the first time I asked her out. And the second, and the third (over the course of five years or so). I remember the pain of being turned down, the sense of puzzlement when she said she loved me but didn't want to go out with me.

Mostly, I remember the years of feeling as if she was "the one," the person that I would eventually end up with.

Life, obviously, did not end up that way. I married another. So is she, now.

I am happy for her. She is, more than anything, a dear friend of mine. So I will go to her wedding with a mixture of joy and...actually, I have no word for that other feeling yet. Sadness? Ambivalence? Irrational jealousy? Some combination of all of these?

And yet, there is also this feeling of hope. Hope for her. Hope for some sense of resolution. Hope that in celebrating this moment of her life, our friendship will be renewed and transformed.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Life soundtrack

I found this over at Natalie's blog.

Life Soundtrack


*Updated to correct the omission of the "Getting Back Together" section that occured previously.*

So, here’s how it works:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don’t lie

Opening Credits:
a) Storm in My Heart -- Colin Hay
b) Veronica -- Elvis Costello

Waking Up
a) End of the World Party -- Medeski, Martin, &
b) Quality Time -- Hank Dogs

First day at High School:
a) Moses -- Patty Griffin
b) Mighty Little Man -- Steve Burns (I wasn't very tall back then, but mighty? Hmm...)

Falling in Love:
a) One From Your Head -- Hank Dogs (wow, dark and depressing -- a perfect fit for early romantic experiences...)
b) Five Guys Named Moe -- Joe Jackson (presumably capturing the humorous side of such things)

Fight Song:
a) With This Love (choir) -- Peter Gabriel (cool tune, but a fight song?)
b) My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home -- Sting

Breaking Up:

a) Amazing Grace -- Sufjan Stephens
b) In Your Eyes -- Peter Gabriel

a) Light Up a Candle -- Kasey Chambers
b) Black Horse & The Cherry Tree -- KT Tunstall

a) Guadete -- Mediaeval Baebes
b) Love Me Broughte -- Mediaeval Baebes

Mental Breakdown:
a) Music For Montgomery County, PA -- Steve Burns
b) Every Time it Rains -- Charlotte Martin (remarkably fitting, if you know the song)


a) Hollywood -- Hang Dogs
b) So Hard -- Dixie Chicks


a) Tiny Dancer (Live) -- Elton John
b) A Million Tears -- Kasey Chambers

Getting Back Together:
a) So Cruel -- U2 (perhaps the "shuffle" gods are trying to tell me something...)
b) Gypsy Woman -- Martin Sexton (hmm...)

a) She Changes Like the Weather -- Nic Armstrong & The
b) The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn -- Alison Krauss & Union Station (?!)

Birth of Child:
a) The Finish Line -- Snow Patrol
b) From Thence I Went to the Landgrave of Hessen -- Sting

Final Battle:

a) Jacksonville -- Sufjan Stevens
b) Cold Hands (Warm Heart) -- Brendan Benson

Death Scene:
a) Crooked Teeth -- Death Cab for Cutie
b) White Christmas -- Diana Krall

Funeral Song:
a) Little Drummer Boy -- Martin Sexton (Christmas music?!)
b) Come Heavy Sleep -- Sting (OK, fitting. Depressing, but fitting)

End Credits:

a) Ebben?? Ne andro lotana (from La Wally) -- various artists (opera)
b) Maggie -- Colin Hay (a fitting ending -- I love that song)

Friday, March 09, 2007

nursing home

I spent some time not long ago in a nursing home, fuddling through some information I'd collected, trying to figure out why this person had this strange, intermittent loss of orientation.

It made me think about my first experience in a nursing home as an aspiring psychologist. I was sent to this woman's room. The people there wanted me to assess for the possibility of depression in a woman with fairly advanced dementia. (Which is quite a challenge, actually, but that's another matter). So I go in to see this woman, and she's there in her bed, looking up at me. And I start asking her questions, going through my little tests and checklists and things. But mostly she just looks up at me and says things like "you're so beautiful!"

I used to joke that I left that room saying, "she's fine! I don't see anything wrong." (To which my wife would remind me that I was dealing with a woman whose judgment and perception of my attractiveness may have been affected by late stage dementia. Never one to miss a trick, that one).

Being in a nursing home again, I was struck by the competing demands there. Such facilities are, for a variety of reasons, based on a medical model. In many respects, they are simply hospitals for the elderly with medical complications. And yet, they are "home." Many of these people lost all of their savings, nearly all that they own, so that they could come there (so that they would financially qualify for Medicaid -- which would then pay for their care). And despite the best efforts of the staff there, there is so little that feels like "home." The crowding, the cafeteria style eating arrangements, the constant presence of medical personnel, most of your activities documented and reviewed.

Some of it, perhaps much of it, necessary. But hardly conducive to a sense of "home."

It strikes me that we as a society should find a way to do better for our elderly. And I mean no disrespect for those working at nursing homes now, who do their very best under trying conditions themselves. But particularly at this stage in our history whn so many are going to need this kind of care, it seems to me that a new kind of model is called for -- a model of care that does a better job of meeting the emotional needs of our elderly for respect, privacy, and a sense of being "home" rather than in a hospital.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

religious identity

I've been involved in some interesting discussions recently over that whole James Cameron documentary.

I'm really struck by how much emotion that topic brings up. But my point isn't to rehash that debate here.

What I'm struck by is how very different my view of Christianity, of religion is from some of those with whom I discussed the topic. Like the fact that I don't believe in hell, and thus don't see Jesus' role as having to save us from such a place. Or the fact that I don't believe doctrinal beliefs have much to do with salvation. Or even that I don't think our lives should be based on an assumption of future judgment after we die.

I also don't think that Christianity can reasonably claim to be the sole route to what we call salvation, that attempts to interpret the Bible "literally" (i.e., without the benefits of historical criticism) are foolhardy, and that arguments over arcane theological topics (e.g., the precise nature of the trinity, say, or the extent to which God's will can be found in "natural law") are misguided.

Perhaps what gets me in trouble with some of this is that it is mostly a list of what I do not accept, what I no longer believe.

What I do believe is that the purpose of our lives (and God's purpose for our lives) is to grow in love, happiness, peace, and compassion. I believe that we can find meaning in our times of suffering, but that most efforts to seek out suffering are often misguided and counterproductive to emotional and spiritual growth. (There is enough pain in the world. We needn't add more to it.) I believe that pain and despair are destructive and corrosive, often spreading and creating more suffering, violence, and anger. I believe that happiness is greatly undervalued by the Christian tradition, and that truly happy individuals seek to spread happiness and joy to those around them. I believe that the creation of such a phenomenon on a widespread level is part of what Christ meant when he discussed establishing the "kingdom of heaven" on earth.

I believe that Jesus was a profound teacher and examplar of these ideas. I do not question his divinity, but the question of whether he was divine or not is not what is of central importance to to me. I believe that there is much to be learned about spirituality and salvation from other religious traditions, and that if Jesus were here today he would say exactly the same thing. I believe that we can become deeper Christians from learning and practicing aspects of other religious and spiritual traditions, that whatever promotes true happiness, joy, compassion, and love makes us better Christians.

I believe that what is of most importance to God isn't what we believe, but the kind of person we are. I believe that there is no doctrinal litmus test for entry into heaven.

I believe that we should never cling onto a belief (any belief) so strongly that it prevents us from feeling compassion or love for someone. I believe that our beliefs should be understood as a "finger pointing to the moon," and that we are misguided if we focus so much on the finger that we lose sight of what it was trying to point us towards.

I believe that God's revelation continued past the time of Jesus, that it is all around us and in every corner of the world. I believe that God's revelation can be found in the smile of a child, an act of compassion, even in a moment of compassionate limit setting -- in any act that causes us to grow in our capacity for joy, understanding, compassion, wonder, and love.

I believe that people are essentially good, though life can produce patterns that hide or damage that essential goodness. I do not believe in the notion of original sin. I believe that accepting and growing our essential goodness is part of God's plan for us.

I'm not sure just what heresies this qualifies me as having, what people would say it means about the nature of my religious identity. Frankly, I'm not sure if that matters to me right now.

I believe that the greatest gift I can give the world is to raise sons who spread joy rather than hate, hope rather than despair, love rather than apathy. I pray that I may do so.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A week in review

It was quite a week, I tell you.

First off, the boys fell ill. Jacob just for a day or two of diarhea. Patrick with full-blown flu -- with this really weird pattern of acting mostly OK during the day, leading Meg and I to feel that maybe he was getting better, and then with monster vomitting or diarhea that night. He was sick probably a full week. We did much laundry. He seems to be feeling better no -- no obvious symptoms for the last couple of days. So we're planning to send him to school tommorrow.

I was personally ill myself on Tuesday. Not fun, but it only lasted about 24 hours. So not too much work missed. Meg fell ill towards the end of the week. But, again, her bout of illness was short-lived. We're lucky.

This weekend, I got to experience Patrick (my six year old) going to sleep in my arms again. Holding my hand for comfort as he went down for a nap, cuddling in close. Just looking at his face as he slept. Realizing how perfect he is.

We were just about to get a wireless internet hookup in our home this last week. Then the internet powers that be rescheduled with us. Something about 50 mph winds and a hesitation to put their guys up on our roof to hook up the satellite dish. Something about insurance premiums. And of course I'm glad they did what they did. But I'm still looking forward to getting that setup working. If I understand right, we'll get both the high-speed internet access -- and the cool feature of being able to access the internet anywhere in the house with our laptop.