Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On 2008...

Looking back is an interesting exercise. There's this assortment of memories that stand out for me from the past year. Like going to New Orleans for a Personality Assessment conference, walking down Bourbon Street, and thinking that I'll never listen to Sting's "There's a Moon Over Bourbon Street" quite the same way again. I remember the conferences I attended and learned so much from -- some of which was technical, but mostly about expanding compassion and humanness in this work that I do.

I remember golfing more this last year than I have in the past. I remember time spent on the driving range, time spent looking for advice on how to fix my swing flaws. I remember being good enough to routinely beat my older brother's scores when he came back from Japan for a few weeks -- and how empty that was, how just having that time together was far more meaningful.

I remember the growth and progress of my sons, moments of joy and frustration, progress and puzzlement. Mostly I remember the pride I feel in them and the love they inspire from me.

I remember the election, how my hopes soared and my interest peaked. I remember being glued to political coverage and the talk of the punditry. I remember following opinion polls and the trends of such polls. I remember my sadness at the loss of Tim Russert, who was one of my favorite TV personalities.

I remember moments in therapy -- moments of surprise and delight, moments of connection, moments of sadness.

I remember talks with friends, the joy of reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, and the wisdom I so often have the privilege of finding on the blogs I follow.

I remember reading Pema Chodron and listening to some of her audiotaped lectures. Such good stuff.

Peace be to all of you, and the best of wishes for a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seeing beyond...

I've been reading this new Psychology book on "Metacognitive Therapy." It has some pretty interesting things to say about why we become depressed or anxious when we do, but that may be a post for another day. On this day, I've been considering what it has to say about feelings and reality. One of the things the author discusses is the need to get a sense of detachment from our feelings and thoughts -- to see past them, through them, or beyond them -- in order to get at the reality of what is happening. Or, put another way, to focus our attention externally rather than filtering our sense of reality through an inner "filter."

I say this in part because I have not been feeling particularly ready for Christmas this year. There's my struggle with church, with religion, for one thing. And there's also a sense of loss I have around that topic, particularly around Christmas.

But as I try to see beyond those reactions, I'm aware that my underlying faith is not diminished by the fact that I'm experiencing a struggle with my religious tradition. I'm aware that my experience of loss doesn't mean that this occasion is any less full of meaning, joy, or love. And that perhaps new insights or appreciation stem precisely from this type of struggle.

In any case, peace be with all of you this Holiday season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A dream

Mary visited me in my dreams last night. Yes, THAT Mary (hey, I was raised Catholic after all!).

Anyway, it seems that she wanted to clear something up about that whole "Silent Night" thing. Turns out, the night was not so silent.

"Jesus screamed his little head off" she informed me.

"Really?" I asked. "But he's, you know..."


"Yeah, God."

"Well, how would you feel about the rather abrupt shift from being in heaven to living on earth?"

"Umm, well..."

"And how else was he supposed to let us know that he was uncomfortable? Or hungry? Or just wanted to be held?"

"Alright, alright, I get it," I demured. "But somehow it just doesn't seem think of the night that way."

Mary shook her head at me. "Your problem is that you too easily attribute holiness to feelings or images that are comforting. Didn't your boys cry when they were born?"

"All the time," I agreed.

"And did that make them, or make their births, any less holy?"

"Well, umm, no, I guess not."

"Their cries are opportunities for us to give them comfort, for relationship, for connection. They are as filled with holiness as any other moment, if you can just get past they distress they create in you."

"Yeah, alright, Mary" I offered. "But you gotta admit, 'Screaming Night, Holy Night' just doesn't have the same ring to it. It sounds like one of those bad horror movies that they put out on Christmas."

And Mary laughed.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


This past week, the Vatican decided to forgive John Lennon for remarks he made in the early days of Beetlemania -- remarks to the effect that the Beetles had become more popular than Jesus.

I find myself deeply tempted to rant. About how ridiculous it is that the Vatican took offense to something so insignificant to begin with. About the utter insanity of a religion supposedly based on love and forgiveness taking over 30 years to forgive a comment by a popular young musician. About how the Vatican might have better uses for it's indignation.

I suppose part of my reaction is that this is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely insane about religious belief sometimes: how elevating something to a religious belief somehow means that it should be exempt from critique or criticism. How questioning or criticism of religious belief turns some otherwise rational people into thin-skinned idiots making mountains out of molehills.

It seems to me that it is one thing to have an opinion of what is good, because if I have such an opinion and you question it I can change my mind, modify my opinion, change and grow. But elevating such an opinion into the will of God (as if such a thing were possible!) makes it into eternal truth, makes me condemn as heretic those who would disagree, prevents me from growing, learning, adapting.

All of this makes me wonder the extent to which this kind of reaction is due to a sense of threat to that which is highly valued. And so I try to imagine how I would react if someone were to make a kind of threat to something I value. For instance, I think of the hurt I felt when a young child at a daycare center heard that my son Patrick was coming that day and said "oh, no! Not Patrick! I hate Patrick!" To paraphrase Pema Chodron, that experience freed me of the notion that I have relatively little in the way of aggression in me.

Still, I do not elevate my belief in the value of my son into divine Truth. After some reflection, I can see how other kids would find Patrick's eccentricities strange or difficult. I am able to broaden my view of my son to see how other children might see him.

So I have a proposal: let's do away with doctrine. Let's have teachings, ideas, and beliefs -- but let's stop imbuing them with divine providence (even the implied divine providence of being official church doctrine). Let's focus instead on ensuring that any teaching, any belief, is ultimately in the service of promoting love, compassion, understanding. And let us explicitly state that we should hold no belief so strongly that it prevents us from showing love, compassion, or understanding.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


One of my favorite blog authors, Katherine, of "Meaning and Authenticity" has been so kind as to give me the "Superior Scribbler Award." I am delighted and honored, of course -- in no small part because I find Katherine to be so profound, kind, and honest in her writings. Thank you for this recognition, Katherine. I'm honored and will do my best to start posting a bit more often.

Here are the rules as I understand them:

*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

*Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

*Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this Post, which explains The Award.

*Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

*Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

For my part, I choose to honor the following blogs:

Seeking to Build Bridges. Sarah's writings are honest, intelligent, and compelling, whether she's describing daily concerns, theological issues, or social concerns.

Magdalene's Musings. She has one of the first blogs that I discovered, and was one of my early inspirations for starting a blog myself. I admire the love for her children and congregation that come through in her writings. She is generous in sharing her sermons on her blog, and these never fail to make me think about the scriptures from a new perspective.

Faith in Community. Diane's writings are smart, charming, and insightful. And we both have connections to both South Dakota and Minnesota. I enjoy her writings in part because her blog is about having "faith in community" -- which is something I wish I could have more of.

Velveteen Rabbi
. I once heard an episode of "This American Life" where David Sedaris commented on a performance by Sarah Vowell (who, coincidentally, is one of my favorite authors). His comment ("she must be stopped!") was described as the pinnacle of praise by one comedy writer to another. I can relate to Sedaris' sentiments when I read Rachel's blog. She writes so well, with such beauty and grace, that I sometimes feel as if I should just stop trying.

A Boyd's Eye View
. This is a relatively recent find for me, a blog by one of my oldest friends and my debate partner during our Freshman year. It had been many years since we'd talked before we found each other on Facebook -- and from there I found his blog. It's cool to find that the humor, quirkiness, honesty, and intelligence I remember him for is still there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop. 8

Just so very well said. I particularly love his commentary on those using their religious views to support their vote in favor of Prop. 8.

Friday, November 07, 2008

on "politics," a post script

After I wrote my "politics" post, I came across people commenting on some similar ideas. Interestingly, several discussed Lincoln's address to a nation much more divided than ours is currently. These words express what I think I was getting at far better than I could:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

- From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Oh, how our politics might be different, it seems to me, if we could proceed with "malice towards note; with charity for all...."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I heard an interesting exchange today on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Joe Scarborough was talking about his sense of how insulting some commentators have been in describing Obama's victory. He pointed to comments such as that Obama's election was a victory of hope over fear, arguing that it is insulting to insinuate that right-wing conservatives vote as they do simply based on fear (vs. voting on heartfelt convictions, differences in worldview, etc.).

It was a humbling topic for me to think about, in large part because I've found myself agreeing with the commentators Joe was troubled by. I believe that the RNC and McCain's campaign was trying to scare the American electorate by pinning emotionally laden labels on now president-elect Obama. They called him "socialist." They made inferences about how he "worked closely" with Bill Ayers. They called him a "celebrity."

It is difficult for me to see these attacks as anything other than an attempt to spread fear, an attempt to play into people's prejudices.

And yet, Joe's point is something to consider. The fear that came out of the campaign must stem from their sense of threat to something they consider dear -- be it conservative values, a candidate they trust and admire, or a hawkish foriegn policy that they feel protects our country.

It feels odd to consider that the policies and worldview I espouse could be considered a threat to anyone. And yet my acceptance of things like gay marriage, my very refusal to condemn such arrangements, feels threatening to people who wish for a society that defines marriage more narrowly. I do not have to be, feel, or act angry in order for them to feel threatened by my point of view. Perhaps I would be considered all the more threatening by staying calm.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning my positions. I hold them proudly. But I think the larger point I'm pondering is one of how we relate to those with whom we disagree. If those of us who consider ourselves Obama supporters seek to follow his call for unity, then perhaps we must take extra care in how we express our joy at this election. Perhaps we must take particular care to assert our perspectives without gloating or shaming or assuming negative motivations in those with whom we disagree.

Peace to you all.

Monday, October 13, 2008


So one of the decisions my wife and I made last year was to spend more time with Patrick working on his autism.  Our approach to doing so was to send him to school for half days (where they focus on the major academic subjects), and we take him in the afternoons.

As it works with my schedule, I pick him up right around 1:00, and today that happened to be my lunch hour.  So I took him with me to the local Dairy Queen, where I ordered a cheesburger, and he ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream.

But what was remarkable about the occasion today was that we were sitting there, eating, and I begin to notice Patrick moving his head.  Which didn't really seem very significant to me.  I mean, autism spectrum kids will do these weird movements sometimes, right?  But then I noticed that the movement was, well, rhythmic.  In fact, it was timed to the song on the radio .

Pleased with what I saw, I started moving my head with him, smiling my satisfaction.  And to my great surprise, Patrick puts his hands up in the air, moving them back and forth (at one point he even modified this to include a kind of finger pointing thing).  He smiled back at me and laughed as we did our little dance together.

I'm not sure just quite what the good patrons of our local Dairy Queen thought of this exchange.  But as my son stood up out of his chair and went into full dance mode, I responded in kind without even thinking about it.  Patrick would add in these little variations to his dance, and would respond with laughter and understanding when I added in some of my own.  

It was this wondrous moment of movement, of coordination, of relationship, of joy.  I'm so happy to have had that moment with him.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm struck by the level of hatred I'm hearing about at McCain rallies. There are truly outrageous things being said by people in the crowd (e.g., calling Obama a "traitor," calling for Obama's head, etc.), and it really seems like the tone of those rallies is frightening.

Which is why I have to give credit where credit is due to McCain -- who today told the crowd that Obama is a good and decent American, that they would have nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.

I think it's arguable that the only decent thing McCain could do in response to these kind of comments was also the most politically risky -- to confront his supporters, to stand up for Obama's basic decency. His willingness to do so reminds me of what I have always admired about him.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an Obama supporter. But in a political system that seems to drift towards the demonization of our opponents, I think it's important to take notice when somebody bucks that trend.

Well done, Senator McCain. Thank you.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

an observation...

The negative smears by the McCain/Palin campaign are essentially arguing guilt by association -- Obama has "associated with" Rev. Wright, knows Mr. Ayers, so therefore he must approve of their beliefs and actions.

But when someone at a Palin rally calls for Senator Obama's head? We're told that they're just loonies.

Look, I'm not arguing here that Palin or McCain are responsible for the conduct of everyone at their rallies. I just think it's equally as silly to hold Obama responsible for the beliefs or conduct of everyone he's ever had an association with.

Frankly, this tactic smacks of desperation. It's beneath the honor of someone with McCain's distinguished background, and I think he knows it. I think that's why he's so grumpy lately.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

on my radar

I was reading an article about family therapy recently, and the author was talking about the level of noise that can occur in unhappy families. The idea is that there can be so much commotion, so much noise that important messages are lost, are no longer heard. So to be effective, a therapist sometimes has to up the ante -- has to give a message enough emotional "oomph" to make sure that it is heard. The example the author gave was of showing a family that scene of the traumatized horse from "The Horse Whisperer" (where they bind its legs while talking soothingly to it) in order to make a point about setting limits while communicating safety and caring.

But what struck me about that notion today is how things can fail to get our notice, fail to arise compassion in us. I think about Jacob's struggles at school (that I posted about earlier) as one example of this -- how it took him lying down on the garage floor before my compassion finally kicked in.

I suppose this is, to some degree, necessary. It's like how the biblical teaching to "love thy neighbor as thyself" can't be taken too literally because it would be all consuming and ultimately counter-productive. We need to insulate ourselves to some degree, to filter, to prioritize. I suppose it could be said that all of this makes some degree of "noise."

But I think it is also true that (to use another biblical metaphor) our hearts can be hardened if we are not careful. We can become so preoccupied with our own concerns, worries, and cares that the proverbial noise turns into a kind of cacophony that very little can penetrate. Or we could think of it as a kind of emotional armor that keeps virtually any touch from getting through.

It is better, it seems to me, to strive for a softened heart. Better to face pain, to be open to it, to face it and respond lovingly to it. Better to let our difficult emotions wake us up, soften our hearts, awaken our capacity for compassion, for love.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I saw an interesting movie recently. I believe the title was "Cashback." It's about an art student struggling with a kind of depression after breaking up with his girlfriend. The premise of the movie is that he finds in the midst of his depression that he is able to stop time. And by doing so he discovers that love, that beauty, often is in hiding -- that we have to stop and notice it or else be swept along by the nonstop current of life. I enjoyed it.

Recently my six year old son, Jacob, started complaining about school. I really didn't think too much about it, figuring that he was just getting used to the idea of working for so long. Then a day or so ago, he lied down on the garage floor before school, crying and complaining about how he dislikes all the time they spend on reading exercises.

This caught me off guard. The reports from his teacher have been fine. He seems to be making good progress academically, and they haven't noticed him being particularly stressed out at school. Part of me wonders if it is a struggle with sustained attention -- staying focused on something for that long? Or maybe he doesn't feel confident in it yet, and dislikes the feeling of struggle (even though his progress is OK)? Maybe he is miserable at school but suffering in silence?

These thoughts weighed heavily on me all day, and I spoke to his teacher about them. She seems as concerned and puzzled as I feel.

But regardless, I was struck by how easily I disregarded his earlier reactions, how I only took it seriously after he had the day where he cried in the garage. It makes me feel a bit guilty, a bit ashamed.

But my hope is that this incident will be a reminder -- a kind of encouragement to myself to be more open, more present, more centered.

Peace to you all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

on disdain

I had a fascinating conversation with someone about disdain the other day. It had to do with why we sometimes cling so tightly to this emotion, this habit. Basically, we discussed how disdain allows us to maintain a sense of superiority (or at least of not being something that we dislike), but at the same time sets us up for a kind of self-loathing. Since there is almost always some part of ourselves that recognizes, understands, or contains what we dislike -- we are setting ourselves up to harshly condemn that part of ourselves, to set up a kind of war on ourselves.

Some people resist giving up their disdain because they equate doing so with acceptance, with agreement. But learning to have compassion for those who, say, have prejudices, doesn't mean that we must become prejudiced ourselves. It merely means that we can understand the fear and false assumptions that underlie prejudice -- that we can appreciate how toxic and difficult these can be because we have experienced them ourselves.

In other words, getting rid of disdain involves an acceptance of our shared humanity. It means joining with, being a part of, the human race. It means working to create change through dialogue, understanding, and peace -- rather than through rejection, hostility, or anger.

Friday, September 12, 2008

political musings...

I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised that Palin is getting as positive a reaction as she has so far. A brief review of the concerns:

1. She advocates teaching creationism in public school science classes.

2. She clearly wasn't even aware of what the "Bush doctrine" is! (Which is only a minor thing, really, given that it's been the basis of our foreign policy for the past seven years. Yeesh.)

3. She actually expects people to believe that her decision to fire the local librarian when she was mayor wasn't related to a desire to censor books she finds objectionable -- despite the fact that her decision to fire the librarian came within days of a talk they had where she specifically brought up the issue.

4. She has repeated blatant lies (even after profoundly shown to be lies by all media outlets) about her so-called rejection of the "Bridge to Nowhere."

5. She accepted some of the most extravagant earmarks for the state of Alaska, yet has promoted herself as being "a reformer."

6. She has denigrated those involved in community organizing.

I could go on. But it seems to me that what we're dealing with is a reasonably photogenic individual who is clearly from the far right wing of the Republican party. Somebody with little knowledge of (or experience with) policy issues on an international level (or even of issues transcending those of the State of Alaska). And someone who calculatingly heaps praises on Hilary Clinton, but who would be among Hilary's harshest critics if Hilary were to be the current Democratic nominee.

This is not change. This is precisely the kind of campaign put forward for Bush in 2000.

We all know how that turned out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


On this, the 39th anniversary of my entry into this world:

I took the day off from work.

I golfed 18 holes at a very difficult course about 30 minutes from here.

I had my "Phil Mickelson" moment: three separate attempts to chip the ball onto the green, with each one rolling back to within three feet of where I stood.

I went to an IEP meeting for my younger son, focused on how to help him stay focused at school.

I ate a yummy dinner.

I got to enjoy having my boys blow out candles on the cake with me. Three times!

I thought often of my own father, thinking his reactions were probably much like my own when he had his birthdays.

I was aware that the true joy of the day was not the golf, not the day off, not the cake, not the present -- but the simple joy in my sons' eyes as they wished me happy birthday.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My 6 year old son, budding existentialist?

So a day or so ago, I walked into a room, and my six year old looked a little tense. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Dad," he replied, "I'm not for sure I know who I am."

I paused, briefly, trying to make some sense out of his question. Then I just figured I'd respond directly.

"Well, I do!" I told him. "You're Jacob. You're my son."

He looked up at me, seeming relieved. Then he started talking about Power Rangers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

church thoughts

It's interesting. I'm finding myself more aware of a certain belief or perspective about church/religion/philosophy that I have -- namely, that their entire purpose should be to enhance love, joy, peace, compassion, and justice. I think this is largely why issues of doctrinal correctness drive me batty. If one side or the other has no impact on these matters (or if it comes down to a matter of personal preference), then the issue is moot, even silly.

So here's the thing, as far as attending a church goes, I can see some value to practicing in a community whose goal it is to similarly grow in love, etc. But I am concerned that this is not always the case, that some (many?) see church more as a pathway to heaven, as reaffirmation of doctrines (or prejudices), of proof that they're "right."

I'm not trying to argue that my reaction is correct, but merely to state what my reaction is and to explore it a little. I'm struck initially that my reaction might be a bit harsh, a bit judgmental. Surely, people are searching out goodness while they attend church. They may believe that being "right" or holding correct doctrine is part of that path.

Second, what of my compassion for them? Am I so weary of my church journey that I fail to see their pain, their struggles, their aspirations?

I think part of what this boils down to is that I have become more comfortable seeking for spiritual growth on my own. And that has value, I think, but also cost. It allows me to focus on areas that are most meaningful to me, but prevents more of a sense of connection, of togetherness. It shields me from being confronted, challenged. To the extent that my own reactions (described above) ultimately call for me to grow in understanding and compassion, I am prevented from such growth.

And yet...I do not trust this thing I have called "togetherness." I will have to meditate further on that.

Peace to you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seven Facts Meme

The author of one of my favorite blogs, Katherine, has tagged me for this meme. Here are the rules:

a. List these rules on your blog.
b. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog.

1. When I moved to Nebraska with my wife, I wasn't really that big of a college football fan. I enjoy football, sure, but mostly followed the NFL. So when I came here and was asked who "my team" was, I really didn't have an answer. My father always used to root for Notre Dame, so I threw this out as a reply after some hesitation. Never did I realize that this would brand me as a heretic in this state of "the Big Red."

2. I have a hunch that many Nebraskans secretly feel that Bo Pellini (the new Nebraska football coach) is the next coming of Jesus...or Tom Osborne. And they're probably ambivalent about which option they'd prefer.

3. "Managed care" is actually the corporate front for the coming of the antichrist. Don't ask how I know....

4. I minored in theology as an undergraduate.

5. My favorite religious writer/theologian is Abraham Joshua Heschel. I was profoundly moved by his book "God in Search of Man."

6. I have myself on a "behavior modification plan." If I go without eating fast food, I put that money into savings towards a new set of irons (for golf).

7. My wife and I are looking into having a new deck built, mostly out of fear that our current deck is contributing to high levels of arsenic in our boys' systems. Ooh, and I'd love to get one of those new water heaters that only heats the water when you need it (rather than keeping a big 'ol pot of water hot all day).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

religion, shenpa, vanity, etc.

There is a saying that you should always meditate on what causes you frustration. I've been aware of experiencing frustration when I think about participating more actively in a religion lately, and tonight I had an opportunity just sit with that feeling. I think that what came up is perhaps instructive.

My first image was of sitting down at a local Catholic church, having this new priest that I didn't know preach on how homosexuality is sinful. Reading selected Bible verses as if these were proof that my revulsion to what he was saying was going against God's will.

What's interesting to me about the image is that it assumes a particular kind of relationship to God, to the priest (in this case), and even to scripture. A hierarchical relationship, one filled with judgment, of strictly defined rights and wrongs, even a kind of coercion.

Jeez, no wonder I've been reluctant to get into this church thing.

What interests me, then, is the issue of authority. Participation in a church community simply won't work for me if it is about being told what to think, about simplistic discussions of right and wrong. I much prefer a model that strikes me as characterizing modern Judaism: of valuing scripture but struggling with it, even struggling against it. Give me a church that values doubt, values dialogue, values discussion. Give me a church that challenges the mind and soul, but is willing and eager to be challenged in return -- that sees discussion as a path to greater truth rather than as a threat to established truths.

Give me a church that is open to change. Give me a church that values compassion more than doctrine.

Hmm...that's an awful lot of standards, of "give me's."

I think it important to balance this with a recognition that I am looking to enter a human institution, one that will be imperfect, that will fail, that will disappoint. Such things are inevitable, perhaps even necessary...for in facing these disappointments, we learn about ourselves, we can grow in compassion.

Lord, help me to find a church that is human, an imperfect church that strives to follow You more closely, that challenges me, that humbles me. May I learn to grow closer to You through this church, both through it's wisdom and through it's struggles. May I learn from my struggles with my church to grow in peace, in love, in compassion for others. Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why believe?

I wanted to begin this particular blog post by stressing that this is not intended as an attack on religion or on religious belief. Rather, it is a reflection of my current struggle with religion, the effects of religion, and the purpose of religion. At it's root, my reflections today stem from the fact that I found myself musing on the question of "what's the point?" [of religious belief] and didn't have a very satisfactory answer.

So here I hope to express my thoughts, my struggles. I hope for feedback, for insights, for the wisdom of those who do me the honor of reading my humble blog.

It occurs to me that there are those who would say that they believe in religion (in whatever form) simply because it is, in their mind, true. Sadly, though, I find this to be an empty response. The truth of a divine Being is ultimately unknowable, transcendent, goes beyond human ideas and concepts. And even if such an idea is accepted (that a religious belief contains truth, albeit limited), then what? To what point do we hold onto this truth? Sadly, I see many downfalls of those who insist that they know "the truth." What's more, I am moved much more profoundly by those who would hold their sense of what is true in humility, who would be much more concerned with compassion and openness and love than in the attainment of "truth." So while the discovery of answers, of "truth" may be meaningful for others, it simply doesn't speak to my heart.

Neither, I should say, does the argument that through belief or faith we attain eternal life. I have a very difficult time believing in a God who would grant entry into heaven based on a kind of theological ACT test. And the notion that belief or faith is primarily about attaining eternal life seems...somehow empty, really. Almost selfish. Again, without intending any offense, I can't find myself basing a decision such as whether to believe based on some idea of what it takes to gain entry into heaven. It simply doesn't speak to me.

Third, there is the argument of transformation. This one is the one that most intrigues me. To my understanding, the argument is that faith is a transformative journey, one that causes us to grow in love, hope, joy. Faith (or perhaps developing a relationship with God) should cause us to grow, to become more like Christ, in the Christian tradition. Here at last is a reason that speaks to my heart.

But still I am filled with doubt, at least insofar as the issue of the role of faith is concerned. It is possible, it seems to me, to grow in love and hope and joy without a particular religious belief system. Many religious belief systems may suffice for this purpose, as could no religious belief system. One can grow in love through an openness to friendship, to life, to experience. I suppose it can be argued that it some vital sense such openness is an experiential relationship with the divine -- but, if so, then why add religious belief structures to it? What additional benefit is gained?

Finally, and I say this with some degree of doubt and even shame, I personally have never had a direct experience of connection with God through prayer, reading scripture, etc. I have had powerful experiences of love and compassion through fellow human beings, and have written about this in the past. But one needn't add another, religious layer of explanation to understand why these were transformative and meaningful to me. And I have tried various forms of prayer: listening, meditative, etc. My experience has been one of silence, and usually I have viewed this as having not been good at it. Now, however, I am left to wonder if there simply isn't a God, or if such a Being has little interest in communicating with me.

So I am left with this question: why believe? If it is not a search for truth, if it is not meaningful to see it as a quest for heaven, if personal transformation is possible without it, if prayer has typically seemed empty....why believe?

Peace to all of you who have been good enough to put up with my ramblings this evening. I covet your thoughts, your experiences, your insights, your prayers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, they have a name for that feeling of seizing up, of tightening, when we begin to react to something. They call is shenpa (I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right). It's that moment before thought, before even emotion, when we find ourselves reacting, getting stuck in something.

An example: while driving to a meeting yesterday, I pulled up behind a truck with a very unkind bumper sticker on it. I will not spread the harsh words it used, but essentially it was very demeaning towards women.

And there it was. Shenpa. I found myself thinking all manner of unkind things about the owner of that truck, making all manner of assumptions about his motives, his relationships, the likelihood of his acting in an abusive way to his wife or girlfriend.

And I think that, probably, there is some measure of truth in my assumptions about the guy. But the wisdom of the Buddhists here is that I must be careful not to become hooked, to be drawn into these reactions in ways that blind us from compassion, from awareness, from who we are.

I must admit I have similar shenpa reactions when I hear political ads that demonize undocumented immigrants, when I hear people degrade those of differing sexual orientations, even when I begin to think about the scare tactics used by the RNC in political campaigns.

The thing is, I believe that most of these groups (the reactionary ones, in particular) are simply reacting to their own shenpa -- their own fear, disgust, loathing. In so doing, I believe they are blinded. But if I fail to question myself, to find some way of lessening the shenpa's hold on me, then I am in some ways no different than they are. Perhaps my biases are more palatable to me, but they remain obstacles to compassion, love, growth, insight. They inhibit me from interacting with them in ways that promote true dialogue and understanding.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Start Where You Are"

I've just started reading Pema Chodron's book, "Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living." She has some interesting things to say about how we approach our experiences, both good and bad. For starters, she writes that "we already have everything that we need. There is no need for self-improvement.... From this perspective we don't need to change: you can feel as wretched as you like, and you're still a good candidate for enlightenment. You can feel like the world's most hopeless basket case, but that feeling is your wealth, not something to be thrown out or improved upon."

The approach she describes is one of staying mindfully present in the moment, of fearlessly staying present with our pain rather than avoiding it, and even of moving towards our pain -- because by approaching our pain in this way we can allow our pain to "awaken your heart and let it soften you."

Profound stuff. And radically different from a western world that tends to avoid pain at all costs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


OK, so I just read this article, which I find troubling on a number of levels.

1. The entire notion of having to "hide" those with autism or other disabilities is troubling.

2. The apparent belief of the child's mother that her son has autism and nothing can be done about his behavior is troubling.

3. The idea that a church would file a restraining order against a child is troubling.

4. The mother's apparent refusal to find some sort of mutually acceptable way to worship is troubling.

5. The mother's disregard for the rights of fellow parishioners is troubling.

6. The idea that this is being turned into a battle, with simplistic labels thrown on people is troubling.

7. The way that autism can ravage a young life is troubling.

Peace to you all, my friends.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

on the radio

Saw the movie "Iron Man" tonight. Really enjoyed it, actually. I was impressed with how it had a kind of emotional depth -- and wasn't afraid to discuss complex ethical issues -- while still being a good action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Anyway, on the way home, I was scanning through radio stations and happened to hear a snippet of a Catholic radio program. This one involved church doctrine on those who disagree with some church teachings (like capital punishment) may still receive communion, while those who disagree with other church teachings (such as on abortion or euthanasia) are prohibited from doing so. The argument (put forward by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict) is that different moral issues carry different moral weights -- and that those with more serious moral weight must be treated more seriously.

Of course, this puts the church into a precarious position, both politically and morally. The assumption here is that the church has some great moral clarity that allows it to speak authoritatively about which moral issues are of greater significance than others -- as if they alone hold some sort of metric, some way of assigning comparable values to moral issues.

Such arrogance. Such condescension. And so deeply misplaced. They create conflict and estrangement at the very time that the church needs to create a positive identity for itself. Sigh.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the church should not sometimes speak with conviction and clarity on matters of moral importance. But turning away from communion those members who hold principled disagreement on serious issues? That seems to me to run contrary to the essential meaning of communion -- of acceptance of our part in the body of Christ, of accepting our differences and seeing past them to a greater unity.

I'm afraid my church will continue to decline in numbers and significance so long as it places more value on speaking from a presumed authority than it does in speaking from compassion. I pray that it (that we, as church) may be awakened to this insight.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I came home from lunch today and got to spend some mostly pleasant time with my kids because they had the day off from school (one of those "nobody really knows why we don't have school today" kind of days off from school). Anyway, I was having some sort of discussion with my son Jacob -- it may have even been a discussion where he was disagreeing or arguing with me. And at one point, Patrick gets frustrated, reaches over, and bites Jacob on the back.

This has been something of a recurrent struggle for Patrick. His autism leads him to have an oversensitivity to sound, and he seems to react to overly loud noises with either aggression or shutting down. Today, as you already know, he chose aggression.

My initial reaction was one of shock, and then of anger. Jacob had done nothing, really, and he didn't deserve to be attacked by his brother like that. So I yelled at Patrick "stop! You may NOT bite your brother!" And Patrick clamped on to Jacob's back for another minute or so before looking at me and I took him to his room for time-out.

A bit later, I worked on trying to induce some guilt in Patrick by showing him the bite marks he left on Jacob's back, and my wife and I talked to him about what he could have done differently.

Still, I find myself feeling a strong bit of guilt. Here's a kid who dislikes noise and I raised my voice pretty loud. I reacted out of anger when it would have been better if I had kept my cool. I reacted to my son's weakness by showing some of my own.

OK, I know this is hardly child abuse. And perhaps I'm being a bit hard on myself. Still, my hope is to model calm, reasoned problem solving in response to stress. Today, I'm afraid I fell short.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

short game troubles

Second week of golf league tonight. Strangely, it was another night of high winds (like 20-30 mph). I scored a 54. Not too bad, though I could easily have golfed better. My short game wasn't quite where it was last week. Still, I generally hit the ball pretty straight. I can't really complain about that.

Oh, and I met the guy who is going to be my regular golf partner for golf league. He's about 20 years older than me, I'd guess. He's a pretty good golfer and a nice guy who swears like a sailor when he doesn't hit the shot he wanted. Oh, and he has his own golf cart, so I won't have to worry about renting one each week (thank goodness! They cost like $15 each time). Should be a good time, and hopefully I'll golf better.

Monday, April 28, 2008

unexpected places

Appointments to come see me professionally are sometimes occasions that people approach reluctantly, even fearfully. There are those sent to me because their children have been taken from their custody -- or because they're an adolescent whose behaviors have escalated to the point that they've been taken from their homes and put into state custody. And even some of those who come in voluntarily often have a bit of trepidation, I find -- a kind of fear of being exposed, rejected, blamed, or of being found deficient.

I've been thinking of this because several good blogs that I read have been reminding me lately that God is to be found in unexpected places -- among the poor, among the needy, among the disfavored. And I've been struck by this because it challenges me to find God amidst the often terrible chaos and dysfunction I work with -- but also because I think there is a challenge here to make grace present to people in their "unexpected places."

I am sometimes obligated to tell people that I do not believe they're ready to have their children return to their custody. I am sometimes obligated to inform people that they suffer from a mental illness that will likely impact them for the rest of their lives. I am sometimes obligated to give feedback that utterly contradicts the way they see themselves and their world.

And my challenge, it seems, is to find some sort of grace for them amidst these situations -- to join them in examining the darkest and most painful areas of their lives, and to leave them with some greater sense of being understood, of compassion, or insight on something that has always puzzled them.

Anyway, mostly I wanted to send this out as a way of saying thank you to my friends and fellow bloggers who've gotten me thinking about all this -- more cows, diane, katherine, mags, gannet girl. Thank you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

golf and parenthood

This morning I took Jacob to the little golf course we joined. Mind you, he's five (well, almost six). So the time went something like this: we arrived, Jacob complained for 20 minutes about how we couldn't have a golf cart (the course refused to let us rent one because there was still patches of snow on the ground and they didn't want one getting stuck). So we spent 20 minutes processing, cajoling, soothing, and decision-making -- and at the end of this, he decided that walking (though greatly frustrating and to be avoided) was still preferable to the heinous evil called "going home."

So we walked three holes of golf. I played the holes, Jacob put his ball on the ground at times and made funny looking lunging motions at it with his little golf club. Jacob (who is up on the rules of golf after playing hours of golf on our Wii) gave me periodic reminders (e.g., that HIS ball was further from the hole and that by divine right HE should be the first to putt). I got to see his excitement in little things like chasing after the ball when I hit it, helping me to find the ball when I wasn't sure just where it had landed.

But mostly I was struck by our relationship, by his limited (though possibly age appropriate) frustration tolerance, his outbursts when things aren't going his way. And I was reminded that fatherhood (nay, parenthood) is -- if done correctly -- a kind of loaning of our frontal lobes to our children. In other words, we are (for this time in their life) their substitute voice of reason, the calm in their emotional storm. We guide, we direct, we give choices, we consider alternate perspectives.

The manner in which we respond will be imprinted on our children's brains -- creating sources of calm or fear, peace or pain. Our children have no choice but to take this loan, but only we can decide to loan something worth giving, worth copying.

Parenting can be hard. It can be hard because our minds and souls must contend not only with our own stresses, but with the intense stress that life can sometimes pose to children with little ability to handle it on their own.

But it is precisely this process that gives us the opportunity to give our children their most precious gift -- of minds and hearts formed on a foundation of peace, love, charity, and compassion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

golf league

Tonight, I had my first ever experience of golf league. Some time ago, we decided to get a family membership at a little country club just outside of town. Mind you, there are a couple of country clubs IN our town, but their family memberships are like $2000/year. This one was more like $300.

So I decided to join the men's league at this little 9 hole course. Which, I have to say, made me a bit nervous at first. There's the fear that you will slow everyone down, that your golf game will compare pathetically to everyone else's, that you won't know anyone. But as it turns out, none of those things were true. I recognized a couple of the guys, and I didn't seem to slow the pace of play very much. And my score was respectable (a round of 49 over nine holes), within four strokes of the best player in our foursome, and one stroke better than the "worst" score in our foursome.

But more than the absolute score, I was just pleased that I played pretty well, overall. Mind you, we were playing with winds of about 30 mph gusting up beyond that at times. And my driving was initially pretty crummy. In fact, my overall score included four "penalty strokes" from balls that either went in the water -- or that, on one occasion, veered into the woods -- never to be found again. But despite all that, my shots were generally pretty straight.

I was also pleased that the guys I played with were friendly, had a good sense of humor, congratulated good shots, and were happy to talk strategy on the holes.

Ah, golf. I'm tempted to set some kind of goal for myself. Like maybe getting to a round of 45 or even 40 by the end of the year. But I'm also a bit leery of doing so -- the risk being that I might compare my round negatively to the "ideal" score rather than just enjoying the game. Hmm...I guess if I do decide to push myself that way, I'll have to find a way to view progress positively rather than in a negative light.

That's actually pretty good life advice, now that I think about it.

Peace to you all.

P.S. Just one other quick golf story to bore you with. On the eighth hole, I hit a rather poor drive, but kept it on the fairway. The eighth hole is a someone long (for me) par 4 -- meaning that an "average" score involves two strokes to get the ball on the green and two putts to actually get the ball in the hole. Anyway, my drive had me nervous, but I hit a really good 3 wood to get the ball within a few feet of the green. I think I ended up with bogey (one stroke over par), but I was pretty happy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the Pope and me

I've really only known two Popes in my life. Technically, there were more, but I was only really mature enough to understand the significance of the position with John Paul 2 and the current Pope, Benedict.

And I have to say that my view of these Popes has been ambivalent, at best. I admire their intelligence, I admire JP 2's life story, and I somewhat grudgingly will acknowledge that theirs is a difficult job.

But, mostly, my image of them is based on my profound disagreement with their positions -- on contraception, the role of women in the church, altar girls, divorce, the morality of homosexual relationships, the insistence that priests must be celibate and unmarried, etc. I see these teachings as profoundly unhelpful (at best) and as some of the most profoundly troubling obstacles to the Church achieving its mission at worst. (Well, at my worst, I might call them a variety of vulgar names, but you get the idea...)

I think that part of what I find so troubling about their Papacies has been this rigid clinging on to a particular view of tradition, a tendency to claim that certain traditions "cannot" be changed (when such traditions reinforce their pre-existing prejudices, IMHO), and an insistence that "modernity" must listen to (and dialogue with) tradition -- without any hint of mutuality in that discussion.

Which ends up closing the church from a full awareness of how God speaks to people today, in my view. Without this kind of awareness, tradition ultimately becomes dry and lifeless.

And then they decry the declining church attendance figures. Yeesh....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

what the *&(%?!!!

I met not long ago with a woman who had been a member of an extremely conservative Christian church. She had the great misfortune of being married to an extremely abusive and controlling man. Mind you, I do not use the word "extremely" lightly here. We're talking about a man showing significant physical abuse, developing severe and inflexible rules about what clothes women and girls in the family were allowed to wear, and a general pattern of emotional/psychological control that rivals any I've come across.

For many, many years, this woman put up with that treatment -- believing that God called on her to do so. And when she met with me, she easily quoted a handful of scripture verses that (she had been taught) were God's word that she must do so.

Eventually she gathered up the courage and decided to leave the guy. And for the first time, she starts to feel some measure of hope, though she's no longer sure she believes in God. The children beg her regularly not to go back to her husband.

And the response of her "Christian" community? Many church members, people she considered friends, have told her that divorce is against God's will. That she should go back to her husband. That her desire to leave that situation is bad, shameful, sinful.

This, my friends, is what drives me absolutely batty about that particular form of religious belief.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

petty vindications on the reimbursement side of my job...

OK, so this might be a bit arcane, but...

The managed care company that in charge of medicaid reimbursement in our area has this chart. Precisely who made this chart is not known, nor is the criterion by which they arrived at this decision. But, for example, they decided in this chart that psychological test A is worth 1/2 hour of reimbursement, while test B is only worth 15 minutes worth of reimbursement.

To understand why this is nonsensical, you have to understand that tests A & B are virtually identical in their complexity, cost to order, administration time, interpretation time, and in most other ways. The only difference is that test B is primarily used in the assessment of ADHD, whereas test A is used to screen for a broad assortment of emotional/behavioral problems.

So I'm guessing, a little, but the only thing I can figure out is that they looked at this from a financial perspective, freaked out about how common it is to screen for ADHD nowadays, and decided to cut the reimbursement rate for test B.

And now for that "petty vindications" bit. Recently, test B came up with a new version. And in this new version, there are forms for the teacher, parent, and child to fill out (the last version only had parent & teacher forms). So whereas in the past, I could only get reimbursed for 1/2 hour if I gave both forms, now I can claim a full hour's worth of reimbursement if I administer all 3 forms (because they the minimum unit of reimbursement is a half-hour, so they have to round it up if you can claim 45 minutes worth).

And don't even get me started on the logic behind reimbursing psychological testing at a lower rate than therapy services. Yeesh...

I have to say, after years of feeling nickeled and dimed on this particular managed care inanity, this feels pretty good.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

of experience and DNA

Just another fascinating tidbit of information gleaned from that conference I attended: did you know that our DNA actually loops over itself? And that this "looping" prevents certain genes from being expressed at any given time? I certainly did not. And it turns out that interactions with the environment (i.e., our experiences) can affect the process of what part of the DNA is being "covered" and what is not.

So, for instance, it is now known that whenever a neuron in the brain forms a new connection, it is because an interaction with the environment caused the DNA to temporarily uncover a particular gene that allows for the new connection to be formed.

The implications here are actually pretty staggering when you think about how our experience affects us on such a basic, genetic level.

For whatever reason, it makes me think about the necessity of good self-care. I like to think that by nurturing peace within us, we are actually bringing to life a new capacity within ourselves -- for compassion, for understanding, for love, for life.

Enlightenment, perhaps. Or a kind of salvation.

Peace to you all.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"This is SO fun!"

Patrick's ability to really express himself has been quite limited in a lot of ways. It wasn't that he didn't know a lot of words, exactly, but he didn't use his words to express how he was feeling. So he would respond to requests by saying "no, go sleep." Or he'd sing songs over and over. Or he'd respond to questions with a simple "yeah" or "no."

But for whatever reason, lately ability to express himself has been really taking off. Just the other day, I was playing a game where I toss him onto the bed. And he was laughing and squealing, and then he turns to me and says "this is SO fun!"

Which, really, is how I've been feeling -- watching him do all this communication. Watching him comment about his favorites, watching him TELL us that he doesn't want to do something (rather than simply throwing a fit or walking away), watching him express how much he loves his brother.

I could bore you all with comments about what this means about his cognitive development -- like how it indicates his growth in understanding that others have "minds" all of their own, and that the purpose of communication is sharing his "mind" with that of another person.

But for now I think his comment expresses where I'm at better than such a discussion ever could: "...this is SO fun!"

Thursday, April 03, 2008


OK, so I just had to follow up my last post with an example of the kind of genius I had the chance to observe at the SPA conference. Part of the training involved the chance to watch videos of assessment work.

In one video, the psychologist was assessing a woman who hadn't been progressing as she'd hoped in her therapy. So he did a number of tests with her, and found a number of results suggesting a tendency to keep others at a distance, a belief that she has to be "tough" and handle things on her own, and a kind of self-centeredness.

So he's meeting with her and when he gets to the finding about narcissism/ self-centeredness, he approaches it by saying "...this is a finding that often happens when people grew up in homes where they often felt alone." And after she agreed and processed how often she felt alone, he said "...this also comes up in homes where parents had a difficult time keeping their kids' needs in mind." All of this led to a discussion of how often she felt neglected, how selfish they were, how they insulted her and even kicked her out of their home. And then they discussed how she learned to be "tough," how she had to fend for herself, etc.

But notice where he started -- not with a label, not with "this finding suggests that you become preoccupied with your own needs." No, he begins on a level more in tune with her experience -- of being so alone.

Pure, utter genius.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Meg and I got back on Monday from the Society for Personality Assessment conference in New Orleans. We left last Tuesday, and had five enjoyable days spent learning (at the various presentations, seminars, lectures, etc.), eating, and touring.

I greatly enjoy seminars put on by SPA. They take psychological assessment seriously, in a way that many others do not. SPA fought to make testing reimbursable at the same level as, say, therapy. They have been a voice of reason against unfair critics of psychological testing. And they demonstrate that, if done properly, the process of psychological assessment can have a profound therapeutic impact.

Just some examples from the conference. One study found that a two hour collaborative assessment had a greater therapeutic impact on clients than five hours of traditional "cognitive behavioral" therapy done weekly. Another study examined individuals with pain disorders that had a very high frequency of ER visits. After a comprehensive psychological assessment and group therapy, these individuals cut back on their use of medical services by over 60% in the next year. This wasn't for mental health issues, but for their actual pain -- from migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, etc.

I was also profoundly struck by the intelligence and compassion of the presenters -- how well they know their stuff, how compassionately they gave feedback to difficult clients, how powerful a combination this made in terms of therapeutic impact.

Friday, March 21, 2008

a decidedly mixed reaction...

Meg and I have joked lately that we need to write a book of stories about toilet training boys in the autism spectrum. Here's a recent example:

To really understand this story, you have to know that we are working on several different goals with Patrick at the same time. Sure, we want him to learn to use the toilet on a more consistent basis for any substances that are ready to leave his system at the end of the digestive process. But, of course, we're also wanting him to work on things like pretend play -- where you treat an object "as if" it is something else. So we pretend that a banana is a phone, for example.

OK, so the other day Meg notices that he smells, and after cleaning him asks where the poop is. Patrick is reluctant to provide this information, but Meg eventually learns from our other son that the offending material is downstairs. So she takes Patrick downstairs to help clean this up, and he grabs this little rubbery/plastic rabbit that he's been sleeping with at night. When they get downstairs and Meg removes the little towel Jacob had put over the poop, Patrick looks at the poop, looks at Meg, throws the rabbit into the pile of poop and declares excitedly "the bunny jumped in the mud!"

Which can only evict a mixed reaction under the circumstances. Excitement about his developing pretend play skills, horror at the thought that he might try to recreate this little scenario, and laughter at the utter absurdity of it all.

Ah, the life of a parent...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

holy week

I met with a young man this week who struggles with anger. Not aggression directed at people, really, but he yells, screams, slams doors, throws things. His bewildered mother brought him to me wondering what on earth is wrong with her child.

I was struck, as I often am in these cases, by the sheer vulnerability of this child. How tears burst forward the minute he mentioned his father or his grades. How he tells me all about his anger, but how all I see in him is his pain.

I meet a bit later with his mother, and she is frustrated, overwhelmed by his daily outbursts. She worries that he is just like his abusive father, genetically doomed (in her view) to be selfish, demanding, mean, and petty. So she responds to his outbursts by telling him how wrong he is, by arguing with him, by punishing. And his therapist (who asked for the evaluation) works endlessly on "anger management" and sees little change in his behavior despite years of work together.


When I read the gospel story today, where Jesus washes Peter's feet, I thought of just how different that approach really is. The situation I described above is really one of parental avoidance, in a sense: avoidance of their child's anger, avoidance of emotional messiness, avoidance out of a fear that they will somehow be at fault. But the gospel today is a message of openness, of acceptance -- of facing the mess and dealing with it, of nurturing someone in their most private, most shameful, most difficult areas.

It is all well and good, I think, to understand that this is how God deals with us. But my hope is to take this lesson and recall that we are called to do the same. I think we are often trapped in a sense by our desire for calm, for order, for all the good things that make us feel like life is OK and we're doing our jobs as parents, partners, or spouses correctly. But the gospel calls us to look past this to see the person in front of us, hurting or ashamed or confused, and offer something more than a reminder of what they should be doing.

If we follow Christ's example, we welcome the messiness, welcome the fear, welcome the possibility that we have been in error -- because by doing so with compassion for ourselves and whomever we are dealing with, we bring about the potential for grace.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

brain damage?

One of the interesting quirks about the place where I work is that we "contract" with R, one of my fellow psychologist's wives, to do our billing, to follow up with insurance companies, and to pick up the mail. R is, coincidentally, the only truly irreplaceable member of our group. We often joked when we were asked to create our "emergency plan" (a HIPAA required plan for how we would respond as an agency if there were an emergency) that we would all join together to make a protective circle around R.

So anyway, K (the fellow psychologist I mentioned) and R went on a nice vacation this week. And because I am one of the only full time workers here, R asked if I would be interested in picking up the mail. Which I've done before and was fine with.

So today, even though I fully knew of all of the above, I walked into the office and checked to see what mail had come in. "Hmm," I said. "No mail yet. That's strange." And again, later, I checked the mailboxes. "Gee, R still hasn't picked up the mail. That's not like her..."

And then it hit me.

Now aside from some humorous musings about whether I injured more than my arm in my fall 7 weeks ago (or whether I might be suffering from an early-onset form of Alzheimer's), what strikes me about this experience is the process of going through the motions, of getting into routine, of failing to notice something that should have struck my attention.

Routines, it seems to me, simplify our lives, make them manageable. They are useful, even necessary. But they are not, it seems to me, sources of life, of joy, of insight -- at least not when they are done without mindfulness. It humbles me to think of how often I might lapse into such mindless routines, how much I may fail to notice, how many opportunities I might miss.

I pray to do so less.

Peace to you all.

Monday, March 17, 2008

thoughts on a Monday

Today did not start particularly well. That is, today started with fairly long bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, which kept me fairly miserable and in bed most of the morning. But by around noon, my stomach had calmed down enough that I thought it safe to try liquids. And a couple of short hours after finding that I could tolerate Pepto Bismol and some water, I was able to start eating from the BRAT diet (Bananas, Apple sauce, Rice, and Toast -- all of which seem to resist diarrhea).

In short, I've been feeling rather better this afternoon, thank you very much. And I had the great gift of a wonderful talk by phone with my dear friend, more cows. We touched base on our goals for this year, mine being the discovery of a Christian community.

I confided about my mistrust of doctrine, of tradition, of religious authorities -- about how this has made my journey problematic in some ways. She helped me to realize the degree to which I have been discarding the entirety of a religious tradition based on my concerns.

It is a very good thing to have friends who are wise.

Wyld has asked how things are with my arm. Since getting the External Fixator off last Wednesday, my hand has gained a little bit of strength and range of motion. I was supposed to start PT today, but what with the being sick...not so much. I'm looking forward to starting because I really want to get more strength and range of motion back -- though I've heard the actual process of stretching ligaments is not so fun.

Anyway, that's my day. Peace to you all.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

...and it's off!

OK, so I had the doctor's visit earlier today. They did a set of x-rays, and the verdict was that the bones are about 85% healed. Which, apparently, is sufficient for them to remove the external fixator.

So they removed the various outside pieces that kept the pins in the correct position, and while he was doing so the good doctor filled me with some interesting pieces of trivia. Did I know that the military gives two of these to every Marine -- so that if their limb is broken in combat the field medic can "shoot" the pins into the bone and establish a temporary external fixator? (Answer: no, this I did not know). Did I know that they did so after figuring out that casts [the old method, apparently] just didn't work well in wet environments like Vietnam? (Again, this piece of trivia had somehow eluded me). Had I been aware that the soldiers having this particular practice performed on them likely didn't care because at that point they're probably pumped full of morphine? (I didn't know this one, but I would most certainly hope so!)

Then came the actual unscrewing of the pins. This is not performed very rapidly. There's no electric drill type of instrument. It's very hands-on with a metal tool that has a warning label that says "do NOT strike!" I'm not sure exactly why they felt it necessary to put that label on there, but I guess it's comforting in a way. Basically, it's just like a fancy screwdriver designed to provide enough torque so as to unscrew these bolts out of your bones.

I'm not exactly sure just how to describe how this feels. The first turn is mildly to moderately painful and there's an odd sensation that traveled down my arm towards my fingers. After that, it just feels kinda weird until the very end where they're pulling it out through the final layer of skin. At that point, it's coming into contact with more heavy concentrations of nerve cells, and it's briefly painful.

Breathe, they tell you at this point. Then they start work on the other three.

I was curious if there was any special treatment I needed to do once the pins were removed. Not really, they informed me. Keep cleaning it like you have been (with hydrogen peroxide once per day) so that it will heal from the inside out. Keep it clean and dry until it's all healed over in a couple of days or so.

Oh, and do about three weeks of physical therapy, about three times per week.

Anyway, I'm glad to be rid of the thing. I'm looking forward to getting some PT, getting more strength and range of motion back in my left wrist. I very much hope to golf yet this year.

Peace to you all.


OK, so today marks 6 weeks and one day since I broke/fractured my left arm. So long as the newest x-ray looks good, they're going to unscrew the four pins from my left arm and wrist later this morning.

While I'm awake.

My doctor assures me that it actually isn't that painful. But I've heard from some others that the process of removing the pins was their least favorite part of the whole process of having a broken arm.

I must admit to some trepidation here.

If y'all hear loud screams emanating vaguely from the direction of Nebraska this morning, that could very well be me.

Peace to you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

I've been tagged!

Katherine tagged me for this meme. Here are the rules:

1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.

2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don't have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother's maiden name).

3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged.)

OK, lessee...

A: Artistic. This one may be a bit of a stretch, in the sense that I am not very adept at the visual arts (though I would love to learn more). But I simply adore good music and literature. And I fancy myself something of a writer. So I guess I think of myself as having an artistic soul.

N: "Nice." I'm not entirely certain to what extent this is good or bad. Wise people have repeatedly pointed out that "nice is overrated." But for good or ill, I was raised to value being "nice." It is a part of me. It fits in with my belief in kindness, in consideration for the feelings of others -- but it has it's negative side in the sense that I may not always speak my mind, that I hold too much in at times.

D: Hmmm...I'll choose "Daring." Not the perfect word to describe it, perhaps, but "daring" in the sense of taking more chances, not always giving in to the negative side of "nice." So it's a side of me I'm working to develop.

R: "Religious Questioner." Those who have kept track of my blog postings over any period of time will know what I mean. It's not that I am critical of religious belief, per-se, but I'm not entirely certain just what I believe. And I think that the process of questioning is vital in arriving at any type of deep faith.

E: "Entertainer." Another side of my personality. I love to tell jokes, to be a story teller. A woman whose wedding I attended many years ago told me that I was probably "the entertainer" in my family. (Actually, I was the quiet one). Sadly, this woman became troubled by profound depression in later years and committed suicide.

W: "Wonder." Following Heschel's lead, I believe that only so much knowledge can be obtained by examining the world through the lens of power (of understanding how things affect or control other things). There is knowledge and wisdom to be gained through seeing the world through the lenses of beauty, mystery, wonder, awe. Faith, I think, only begins when logic shares the stage with the other lenses -- when the entirety of our being perceives the world.

OK...that was a bit challenging, but fun! Now I'm supposed to "tag" six people. I will tag: Mags, More Cows, Gannet Girl, Beso Mami, Diane, and Wyld.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Roughly 3 weeks ago, I slipped on the ice while taking my two boys to school. My left foot slipped out from underneath me, and I automatically put my left hand back to break my fall. As I understand it, this resulted in a fracture in my left arm and wrist, with a total of about four break sites. After several hours in the ER, pins were screwed into the bones in my left hand and left arm, and a medieval looking contraption holds everything in place above the skin.

I say this in part as way of explanation and perhaps poor excuse for my absence from the blog world recently. My apologies to those of you who might have been wondering about me.

Part of what strikes me about this experience is that my mind has spent an unusual amount of time thinking about how lame a story all of this is, how much cooler it would be if I had a more exciting or interesting story to offer as to how I broke my arm. My ego would surely be assuaged if all of this had occurred by fighting off a mugger, protecting my family in some heroic way, or even something as mundane as a bar fight.

But no, sadly, I slipped on some ice.

All of this makes me think about the notion of brokenness, of how uncomfortable it makes me (and I daresay most of us) to acknowledge this simple fact. We hide it, we make excuses for it, we act as if it is not there. But the simple, undeniable truth is as plain as the fractures displayed on my x-ray: We are broken, we are humbled, we cannot do everything for ourselves.

Over the years, I have heard many sermons and read many stories about healing, about transformation, about divine acts that cure our brokenness. But at some fundamental level, I'm not certain that this brokenness ever entirely goes away. Perhaps we need it, need to acknowledge our interdependence, need to recognize our limitations. Perhaps growth stems not so much from transcending our humanity at times as it does in accepting it.

Peace to you all.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

deep talk. sort of.

So today I had one of those conversations you always hear about having when you have kids.

Jacob: Dad, where is your Dad?

Me: Well, Jacob, he's in heaven.

Jacob: In heaven?

Me: Yes.

Jacob: Is aunt Carolyn your Dad?

Me: No, my Dad died a few years ago now, and now he's in heaven. I could show him to you on a video we have, if you want.

Jacob: (thinks for a minute) He's sad. He wants to come home and be with his family.

Me: You may be right. But people are usually happy in heaven.

Jacob: Oh. But he wants to come home.

Mind you, I don't think Jacob yet grasps the concept of "death," so he probably thinks that "heaven" is another city, some sort of school, or some such physical location.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

utter lunacy

My wife showed me a book today. Apparently, a client of hers had gone to a seminar by the author, and she asked my wife to look the book over.

Basically, the author argues that all medical problems and disorders are based on sin, or more specifically, based on having invited Satan into your soul. Yes, the author argues, illnesses have physical causes -- but even these biological abnormalities are due to Satan's influence on you and your body.

So basically this book lists various illnesses and discusses the ways in which people must have invited Satan into their souls to suffer from, say, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer, etc.

And out of curiosity, we checked, and yep, his grand theory even includes autism. Which, he says, strikes even very young children (and thus he isn't sure precisely how the invitation to Satan may occur), but he feels it must happen through an acceptance of rebelliousness.

OK, so to state the obvious: this guy is an idiot. He has absolutely no idea of what he's talking about and (of course) offers no shred of proof for his claims. But I must say how deeply offensive I find the notion that either of my autistic sons somehow "invited" Satan into his life -- that they somehow took a conscious act to "choose" this disorder.

This author's work is dangerous stuff, really. Some people will believe this man, will spend time and money on "spiritual" solutions with no hope of affecting change. They will blame themselves for being ill. They may stop taking medications and feel that all their problems will go away if they can just be spiritually "right with God."


Guys like this give religion, spirituality, and Christianity in particular such a bad name.

I can only pray that his heart and mind may be opened.

Peace to you all.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


OK, so a headline from this morning proclaims "study links chronic anxiety with an increased risk of heart attack."

On behalf of anxious people everywhere, let me just say: oh, great, so we're gonna DIE now?! =)

But on a more serious note, this study serves as a great reminder of the links between our mind and our health, and that taking care of ourselves emotionally is about more than simply feeling better emotionally.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

something more than fear

I recently met with someone who hides their pain by the tactic of never trusting anyone. Believing that all good things end, will eventually cause them pain and loss and abandonment, they choose to not let anybody know what they really feel inside.

Sitting with the second individual not long ago, I offered up the observation that their approach never let them test out who was potentially trustworthy and who was not. And they looked at me with this haunting gaze, staring at me silently for what seemed like an eternity, as if they possessed some eternal truth that transcends language.

In my mind, I wondered if she was screaming, "don't you get it? This will end. You won't be here for me. Nobody will. I'll be lost and alone and hurting. Again."

But in response to her silence, all I had to offer was my presence...and my inner prayer that somehow in sitting with me, she could begin to experience some measure of stability, of healthy beginnings and endings, and choices about relationship based on something more than fear.