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.