Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tweaking the blog

I finally decided to stop being coy and post an actual picture of me, like most other bloggers do, and ditch the sailboat image that was my profile pic from the start. The sailboat was intended to conjure up feelings of calmness and peace, which at least one of my fellow Disciple classmates said were quite descriptive of my true and actual effect on others. (My family has a different view, which will not be mentioned here.) Also, it was in keeping with the thought that appearances don't really matter, do they? But the sailboat just wasn't cutting it anymore. However, it was a part of my blog for so long that I am posting it here for all posterity to view. Well, I would have if I could have found it. Here, instead, is the pic that loomed over my blog recently, of a 2006 vacation to Hawaii. I say "looming over" because it was way too large, and you had to scroll way down to actually get to a blog post. But I didn't know how to shrink it down without just getting rid of it altogether, and I liked the beautiful blue of the ocean too much. It was painful when I finally made the hard choice to ditch it as well. So here it is:



In my case, changing the profile pic was a desperate, last-ditch effort (pathetic, really) to gain more fans. How's it working? The new profile pic was taken after Mother's Day using a lovely new pocket camera my family got me. It has really cool features like taking a panoramic shot, only taking someone's picture when they smile, and shooting movies with audio. It has touch-screen access to most features. The only trouble is it has an itty bitty (size-wise, not memory-wise) card that will not fit in our computer's card readers. Luckily, a gallant coworker came to the rescue and downloaded the pictures to a CD for me. My only complaint is that it tends to show every detail, every wrinkle, every gray root, etc.

So the profile pic is quite recent, but in a salute to Buddhism's concept of impermanence, it is already outdated. Am I talking about the endless regeneration of cells within and without that occurs automatically, round the clock, that means I have a whole new batch of skin cells since then? No. I'm talking about getting my hair highlighted, in an effort to disguise the gray better. I've never been a blonde before in my life, or even partially so, and when I see myself in the mirror now, I keep thinking, "Who's that?" The color would better be described as tawny, especially since my hair is more accurately called a mane. So here's a very current, updated picture snapped with our old camera just a few days ago:


Portrait of the author, thinking. Think-think-think. Another blog entry to follow, soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who's reading this, anyhow?

OK, so that last entry was depressing. But short. See, you didn't have to be depressed for long! Or maybe it wasn't depressing. I don't know. Something called "Death and dying" must be a downer, right? That's what we assume. That is the meaning we attach to death and dying in this culture. Could we have that wrong, too?

So, just to get back to my human side for a moment, because I like to pretend I'm not human while writing about all these lofty ideas, but I really am ... here are my thoughts about who I would like to have reading this blog. If all my friends and associates are reading it (which they are not), I definitely wouldn't want to know that because it might change what I write about. I might be stopped by the thought, oh, that might offend ... or someone might recognize what I'm writing about, and I don't want them to. Or, just the thought that I don't want my privacy invaded too much. (Too late!)

If nobody reads my blog (except my very faithful followers), I surely don't want to know that! How depressing. You want to make a writer depressed, just let them know that nobody knows or cares what they are writing about. Now that is truly sad. Try blogging about that for a while!

The best thing would be if thousands, or millions, of perfect strangers were reading my blog. And loving it. I know that's not happening, but I can dream, right? I guess brilliant writers are just writing to amuse themselves, and then it's a pleasant surprise when everyone else is equally enthralled. But for me, I always wonder whether the words I record will make a difference in someone else's life. Because if not, why do it? I think I wrote here before that it is enough that it helps me. Well, it's not, not really.

I am home with a sore throat (I would be home anyway, not working today). By the way, Austin has a cold, and Dwaine was not feeling well, but they both insist that they did not give me a sore throat, because they don't have one themselves. I guess I gave it to myself, then.

Being home, I've discovered that we have one, or many, obsessed birds that keep knocking on various windows throughout the house. They are very persistent about it. It sounded like one was intent on breaking into the bathroom earlier. It's actually rather creepy to be alone, then hear somebody knocking at random moments and different places. I am telling myself it is the birds ... or is it "The Birds"? Yeah, Hitchcock knows exactly how I am feeling at this moment. He must have had this experience of lunatic birds knocking their little brains out against windows. What will happen if they actually make it inside the house? No one will even hear my screams! Imagine. They'll kill me, then they will rescue their incarcerated parakeet friend, Scout.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Death and dying

I just visited a blog that described in a deeply compassionate way someone's end of life. What a tragedy it is when a loved one dies. How horrible that we "put animals out of their misery" but not people. How we pretend to go about our daily routine, in the midst of death and dying. How jarring it is, to eat the next meal, when your loved one has just died (or is in final days) and will never, ever, eat again. It is a guilty, haunting feeling to eat at that time. It is part of what separates you from the dying and dead, and you almost feel that you are pushing away your dearly beloved who can never share another meal with you.

I have been there for death a couple of times, now, the loss of loved ones, and I guess I am looking at it from a different place just this moment. Yes, it's terribly sad ... for those who are left behind. Is it necessarily a great tragedy? I am not sure, at all.

Is birth a great tragedy? All babies are born to die, someday.

I know it is a great struggle when someone is not ready to die. I have not been around someone who was ready to go, though I read about it in "Tuesdays with Morrie." It's part of what made that book so compelling, was the deep wisdom Morrie tapped into in being ready to go.

Here's a weird random thought I had today. If I were going to die at the age my mom died, I would have completed 2/3 of my life already.

I hope, really wish for that readiness and composure when it's my time, if I get to think about it at all. I think it would be so helpful to the ones I would leave behind, to be ready. I hope I can age gracefully! You know, once I really get to middle age. Yeah, that's way far down the horizon for me.

Because I could not stop for Death -- He kindly stopped for me-- Emily Dickinson, excerpt.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sermon

We had one last marathon session for Disciple Bible class yesterday. In typical fashion, we were supposed to meet for six hours, but it went 7 1/2. This would be the type of thing the normal Julie would be so irritated and frustrated about -- infringing on MY precious time, my precious schedule, my plans, etc. But by the time I left, I didn't want to leave behind all these wonderful people, and the gifts they had given me and each other. It was a special day.

I was the last one to arrive that morning, and felt that familiar resistance to being there. Being with all these other people, and having to pretend I was glad about it. I don't always feel like such a grumpy hermit, but I do when heavy things are on my mind.

Of course, things quickly improved. My mood lightened as the conversation flowed. The morning session was fairly routine, until it came time to talk about our spiritual gifts.

When we we got to the roundtable discussion of spiritual gifts, we went around the table, first naming our self-assessed gifts, then going around the table to talk about the gifts we perceived in one person at a time. I was the only one to forget my self-assessment. So I sort of guessed at all the scores I had made on at least a dozen spiritual gifts listed.

By far, the most meaningful time was when we talked about the gifts of others, one at a time. This is where time stood still. I remembered that I had been hungry at least an hour earlier (at 11, snack time), but those physical needs vanished for that time. This was simply too important to interrupt. It was one of those brief moments of complete openness and vulnerability, between disparate personalities, that is stunning when it happens.

You can sense that it will not continue -- but just for that instant, you are all together on the mountaintop, and the fog has receded far below. A moment this precious does not happen at random, but because of the combined hard work of all present -- and, of course, the Holy Spirit. For us, it took 9 months to get to this point. Scott Peck has described in his books the thing that is most sacred to him, this true community. Some people search for the Holy Grail -- he has dedicated much of his life to trying to build communities, more quickly and efficiently, to attempt to solve the problems of the world.

There was great celebration of one another, several displays of weeping (not just by me), and we learned that two people at the table of nine had experienced the call to full-time ministry -- either at some point in their lives, or at the present moment. (Not me, by the way.) I knew this group was special. The other indication of what kind of group I was in, happened at the two services I attended this weekend (one to watch Austin play guitar), where the "graduates" were asked to go up and say a word. There wasn't a bashful one of the five of us who were there between the two services -- no prompting was needed. We had lots of leaders in our group.

Another remarkable thing was that my inventory of others' gifts was eerily echoed, in most cases, by others around the table. It wasn't because they had just heard it and were seconding the idea -- it was already written in their books, too. It was quite clear that this one was a prophet, that one a healer, and that one had absolutely pure faith. Several had a great musical gift. These things were as clear as anything gets in this muddled place, anyhow.

I got some kudos about my writing abilities. That was nice, and unexpected. Too bad it's not a paying position. Just goes to show you, money is far from the most important thing, though it is necessary.

Pastor Janet gave a good sermon today, based upon a scripture from John where God spoke to Jesus. She emphasized that some of the people who were there with him heard thunder. Others thought angels had spoken. And some, not many, heard the voice of God. She said it's important for the church to come together, at places like annual conference (where the bureaucracy of the United Methodist Church convenes to make decisions) to discuss our various views about pressing issues, with respect. Who thinks it just thundered? Who heard the angels talking? And who heard the voice of God? And let everyone have input into whether it really is God talking, or not. There is nothing more frightening and humbling than to be a prophet. A reality check is desperately needed.

So, when we were all gathered at the table yesterday, did we feel the powerful rumble of thunder? (We definitely did the night before, when all the storms came through.) Were the angels singing? And did we actually hear the voice of God? Yes, I think. Yes, yes, yes.

Almost makes me want to take another class!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Responding to tragedy

I heard a tragic story today that was unspeakably sad. Unbelievable. About child molestation, incest, and betrayal, a family destroyed long ago. But yet the impact seems to still spread like ripples ever-widening. Great evil, great impacts.

My mind could not wrap itself around the possibility that I could know anyone personally affected by such things. And it dawned on me that my first, gut reaction, of defensive disbelief, is the reaction the Catholic Church has clung to so horribly these many long, long years that its sexual-abuse scandals have been coming to the light of day. I can understand the notion that good people find it simply unbelievable that such atrocities could ever, ever happen. Much less, by people wearing priestly vestments who were supposed to be the pillars of their community. But social or religious status does not convey upright character at all. Quite the opposite, at times.

Is the new pope really an awful man, as he often seems, or hopelessly out of touch with modern sentiments of right and wrong? He seems to always be stumbling after making some indefensible comment, and he surrounds himself with people who don't help. When he finally seems to say something that could be interpreted as condemning priestly molestations, it is so watered-down.

Are all sins forgiveable, or meant to be forgiven? The Bible speaks of a sin against the Holy Spirit as something that cannot be forgiven. I don't know what that is, really, but it seems to me that the most unforgiveable sin is to harm an innocent child. To do it repeatedly -- how can such a stain ever be removed? It seems it is permanently recorded.

So how can someone who could not protect their own child from such harm -- how could that person ever overcome that? I don't know. But I know it seems just as much a crime to see other lives destroyed, with no hope of redemption. It seems to give such a total victory to the perpetrator.

So today is a sad day. A day of trying to absorb someone else's difficult blow. And a day where I am coming to terms, or questioning, my own failings as a parent. (Well, that's every day now, isn't it?)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The blogging life's for me

So, I was thinking maybe I should create a separate blog for running, health and fitness posts than this one. However, it's hard enough to keep this one current and fresh. Plus it feels a bit like splitting myself into two.

I was just scrolling through the "next" button to visit random blogs, and I thought, wouldn't it be fun to write a bit of a Scottish or Irish blog, now? You can nearly hear the accent on some of them. There are many cool blogs out there!

Someone asked me today why I was an English and Economics major before becoming a CPA. I laughed and said, because I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up! The funny thing is, in a way, I still don't. But I am enjoying the ride. Very much.

Wouldn't it be nice if I could use that English degree and publish something that made money? However, I don't feel a bestseller springing out of my head (which it would have to do, at this point). I know writing is a profession like any other, but I cannot imagine sitting down every day and writing a work of fiction that would be good. Maybe that's my problem. I haven't been able to visualize this result, so it will not happen.

My life is very full and this urge to write (fiction) would really have to be pulling hard on me to get my attention, the way that I have the strong -- overwhelming -- urge to run and work out. Now, is that urge the result of years of daily practice? If so, I need to incorporate daily writing practice.

All my life, I've written this kind of stuff, whatever you'd call my blog entries. I used to put it all in diaries. In fact, I was thinking the other evening -- where are all those diaries? I really should throw them out. They don't have any lasting value, aren't works of art, and have too much personal stuff that my family shouldn't have to deal with, ever.

I think my journaling has become more mature and outward-focused as I have grown up. The concept of potentially having a universal audience for this blog, helps me stay focused. Hard to believe, I know!

I certainly don't think we all have the capability of writing gorgeous fiction, or bestselling fiction (which is not the same thing). I don't know if I ever could. Maybe I don't even have a strong desire, and that kills it right there.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Running to live or living to run?

I have a question, after reading a recent blog with comments on Runner's World. Are runners a bunch of crazy fools, or what?

A question came up on a blog about the GI (as in gastrointestinal) consequences of running. It's quite common. Ya gotta run, then ya gotta go. And go, sometimes. The up-and-down motion, my GI doctor told me once, stimulates the colon quite a bit. To the point that one runner training for a marathon posted that she (he?) was taking an immodium the night before long runs, every time, and that couldn't be good for the health.

Then there was the runner who had the violent need to go in the middle of a long run. There was no place available, so he/she held it and ran all the way back home, and was still not back to normal a week later.

I have this kind of consequence if I push myself, like I did yesterday on my sixth 5K race. (Yay!) Posted my best time yet, 30:29. (Yay again!) I had fun, too. But that time is outside my comfort zone of about 11-minute miles, so I did feel the effects the rest of the day. This morning, I still felt overstretched in my bowels, like the effects from a minor stomach bug, but it quickly resolved itself.

I wanted to post a comment after hearing some runners' stories: "Hey, anyone here ever heard of cross-training?? Cutting back? Maybe not everyone is cut out to run a marathon?" But that would be, first, rude; and secondly, besides weight-lifting, I don't engage in cross-training either, unless you count things like gardening, washing the car, housework, walking, evening romps, and so on. Now mopping, that definitely is hard work and counts, but I don't do it regularly.

I must call myself a casual runner compared to most. I run about 3 times a week, under 10 miles/week (about 9.5 these days). I think the motivation of very serious runners begs this question: Is this all about health and fitness, or something else entirely? It's clearly not beneficial to ruin your knees, or have the runs on a regular basis, or to vomit after running. Is it really a good thing to have such a long and exhausting training run that you're wiped out for the rest of the day? This reminds me of people who want to get to the peak of Mount Everest. Maybe they have a bit of a death wish. They just want to get close enough to stare old Grim in the eyes and say they lived to tell the tale.

My left knee makes constant little crunchy noises these days when I move it, and I can't squat down on it without intense pain. The compression wrap that I wear while running helps, but has not solved my problems. I think I probably injured it training too hard last year -- I did two 5Ks on back-to-back weekends, which was a mistake. I can't undo that, unfortunately. It's hard to remember that everything needs to be done slow and steady when you're over 40. So I'm one to be preaching to other runners to take it easy! Hey -- I haven't needed surgery yet. So there.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Anger management

This is something that should be a specialty for me. Or, as Tigger would say, (pronouncing every syllable), "That's my speciality." Or maybe I should say that all the various ways of expressing and feeling and repressing anger are my very own speciality!

Anger that consists of hostility directed toward others is a problem. However, not all anger is automatically to be condemned, because strong emotions are the spice of life, and they always are informative. My friend Karen tells me that emotions should not be labeled as "good" or "bad." They just are. Hmmm... this sounds a lot like Buddhism, but she's a Catholic.

This reminds me, incidentally, of a little book called "The Tao of Pooh"* (messed up and had to edit this post to correct the book name)
that explained how Winnie the Pooh is actually a Taoist, an Eastern religion. (Who knew?) He's not mad, not sad, not this or that. Pooh just IS. He is fully present in every moment and always there for his friends. Funny that "He's a bear of very little brain." Perhaps a Buddhist would say, "Very little mind." Which would be a compliment.

Back to anger -- a life with no anger is probably a life not worth living anymore! Time to go on to something else, if you're through feeling passionate about what is happening around you. Where would the world be without righteous anger? I tremble to think.

But understanding anger is important. I am calling this "anger management." It's halting the emotion from becoming an immediate call for action. Especially when it's an emotion that threatens to sweep you away with its power, it is best to take a deep breath and pause for a moment. Pause. Breathe. Julie. (I'm trying to listen to my own advice here.)

I grew up in a family where anger was used to exert power and control over other people. This is a typical use of anger, but it is inappropriate. In fact, I think it is usually wrong to use emotions, in general, to gain power over others. Emotional arguments are used all the time to try to influence people and that's a little different (though still manipulative), but an angry outburst should not be used as a way to intimidate or threaten other people. So the trick is to express anger in a way that is not hostile or threatening to others.

Now, the interesting part is when you catch yourself doing just that: using anger to intimidate and control. I do it. You do it, I guarantee. It's that moment when you have had a long, hard day, and someone treads on your last nerve. It feels so satisfying, for a moment, to just let them have it. It's justified, isn't it?

It's easier to see faults in others, so much easier! So, I see an anger "issue" in my oldest son, and it is convenient to analyze that rather than look in the mirror and realize where his problem may originate. (With my entire family line, actually, and possibly some of Dwaine's as well.)

I have been working on this issue for years. I know in my head how I should behave. It takes forever, seemingly, for the knowledge to trickle down, slowly, slowly, into daily practice. It is so hard and painful to break old habits. It takes such a force of mental concentration, and the greatest focus is required at the times of greatest weakness. When I'm tired, hungry, cranky. That is when the stakes get so high, and I am most at risk of slipping back into lifelong patterns of abusive behavior. Expressing anger is important. Letting it take over my life is not a good option.

Daily practice is the only way to solve impenetrable problems. Every day is a new chance! You get a do-over, over and over again. Embrace the day and the new opportunities.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Washington, D.C.

Things I am most looking forward to seeing in D.C.:

1. Everything! (This includes my sister, who will come up for a quick weekend to see us.)

Let's see: the monuments; the Mall; the Supreme Court (heard the front entrance was just closed to the public due to security concerns -- bummer!); the Capitol; the White House; the Smithsonian complex of museums; Arlington National Cemetery; the zoo, the Department of State. How will we see all this in just a week?

Haven't decided about whether to go to the Holocaust Museum. Andrew was quite interested in it. I think this is because he recently saw "Boy in the Striped Pajamas." I don't know if I am strong enough to see it and not be depressed for the rest of my life.

I wish I could hear oral arguments at the Supreme Court. I would love, love, love it. But I checked the online calendar, and there don't appear to be any when we are visiting. In fact, I wish I could be a Supreme Court Justice. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely, first because I'm not a lawyer, and also Dwaine says I am too biased anyhow. Not so! No more than anyone else!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Holy Spirit

We had our last regular Sunday session of Disciple Bible today, and I really felt the Holy Spirit at work in our group. Not for the first time, but we all were giving the spirit more permission and more latitude. We are learning collectively to let go, and let God.

Rich described that when a group of believers comes together, we all have that slice of holy spirit in us, and when we invoke it, it meets up with the other slices and becomes larger than it could in isolation. That's why it is important to gather in a group to reinforce spiritual growth. Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am, says God. Or, another way to put it, is our angel meets up with other people's angels, and good things start happening.

We were discussing the book of Revelation today. This book, out of all the New Testament, I hate. I detest it. It's religious mumbo-jumbo and what I have always gotten as the takeaway message is "Believe in me or you're goin' ta Hell!! FOREVER" -- lots of fire and brimstone and eternal gnashing of teeth, a la Dante.

So I was prepared to do a lot of listening today. I figured I had very little meaningful to contribute.

Perhaps the listening helped.

Because -- what a surprise when, midway through the session, my mouth opened (it had been opening already, not infrequently) and I heard a voice I recognized as my own. It explained that John was trying to describe an experience that happened in a spiritual realm, in earthly words. This is why it seems to the modern reader that he was trippin' on acid. He was essentially trying to bring an experience that happened purely on a spiritual level "down to earth" and relate it to things we understand here. I'm sure there were a lot of things about his vision that he didn't understand himself. But he was told to write it down (most of it, anyhow).

So if that's true, that Revelation is a vision of the spiritual realm, I'm now thinking, I can't toss it all out unexamined. There is at least a dimension of spiritual truth to it.

If you accept the premise of evil -- something I struggle with -- as totally separate from good, as the absence of good -- then what happens to evil people? I've seen evil at work in other people, sometimes close up. Somewhere the Bible describes that between heaven and hell is a firmament, and nothing can penetrate it. Nothing can cross over. No one goes "down" and no one ascends "up." I've actually had that feeling before when trying to reach out/understand someone in the grips of evil. I don't understand them, and they cannot understand me. We are in two different realms. Since I have experienced that personally in my life, I can't totally dismiss the concept of heaven and hell. I always believe that we are already there -- in communion with God/good/and all creation, or separated from it, suffering and causing others to suffer.

Look at all the suffering in the world. This is the great question that is at the heart of major religions, that perhaps caused all major religions to bloom. Why is there all this suffering? This is what my wonderful friend Buddha addresses. "There is suffering; there is a cause of suffering; there is an end to suffering; there is an eightfold path" blah blah blah (where I start getting really lost) -- anyhow, those are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

So where is God, and why isn't he stopping all the suffering now? The million-dollar question.

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