Sunday, December 26, 2010

Point: Counterpoint - Eddy Hong's Brave New World

Point: Counterpoint
Eddy Hong’s Brave New World
dedicated to Eddy Hong, my FB friend

Point: About you

Risk taker
snake wrestler
shadow boxer
truth telling confessor
of all things hard and personal
personal and hard
I admire your take no prisoners stance
on podcast and Facebook
You’re humble
just not too humble
scared but not too scared
muscling up now
for the long haul

I’m just sayin
Ya gotta start somewhere
‘n now is sometime
cyberspace da somewhere
way ov’r da rainbow
da crazy blinkin rainbow
da place for yous
cuz I’m too far down da road
tripping down da yeller brick
to be of use to yous anytime further

Counterpoint: About me

Man! It eff’in fucked ta wake up
‘n realize I’m old
It’s da hands that give me away
an old person’s hands
Da white hair adds drama
a sexy kinda dramatic flair
But da hands
fluttering und’r da sun so many decades
give me away
like I ain’t ne’er been given away before

Fear is learned
and experience burns
wrinkles into my heartsoul
No regrets, my friend
maybe a few hiccups
of hesitation at the memories
pauses for reflection
reflection and forgetting
Oh, man, did I really do that
did I really say that
did I really mean that
I’m afraid I really did
I really did all that
and more

I’m sayin
In my time
my peeps loved my bravado
cheered ‘n clapped
enuf to propel
da wave of resistance
to win da war
in da workplace
‘n da homefront
sacrificin only da captain
exiled into another life
on another continent
It may as well hab been da moon
I wasn’t of use ta them anymore either
This is what it feels like to be used up
for a reason
in a season
but not forev’r

Ya learn ta reinvent y’self
becuz ya gotta
becuz it’s survival
becuz it’s what we do, man
My relations:
It’s who we are, man

Point: About you

You’re learning not to blink
your gaze direct
man to man, person to person
your inward gaze an X-ray
into the interstices
of sinew and blood relations

Boy, I’m just askin
where did that little smile
in da corner of yer mouth
come from
How’d ja learn ta stare
into the camera that way
Was it from talkin to yer ma
Was it from talkin to yer ba

Counterpoint: About me

From my ba
I learned what to do
and how to do it
From my ma
I learned what to resist
and how to avoid it
The yin and the yang
The parent I adored
and the one who survived
The lesson here:
You don’t get to choose

I’m just sayin
Is anybody listenin?

[Check out Edward Hong's podcast for the I Am Korean American blog site at or here:
I am proud to call this young Asian American my friend. I'm sure we'll see more of Eddy as poet, performer and actor.]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aspiring to Kindness

“Guard well within yourself that treasure: kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” - George Sand, French novelist
There are many movies and TV shows that I choose not to watch, not merely because of their genre. Horror films and most vampire movies just aren’t my thing. And as much as my husband and daughter enjoy Dexter about a serial killer who kills horrible people, I can’t quite wrap my sensibilities around a TV series featuring a serial killer of any stripe. But the most overriding reason that I choose not to watch certain films or shows is because they are mean-spirited.
I’m not a goody two shoes by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I have my share of angry, vengeful thoughts about people who have done me or my family wrong or who are just plain stupid in the face of chances to do helpful rather than hindering things. Hubby Herb and I often say, “Where is a firestarter when you need one,” referring to Drew Barrymore’s child star turn in a 1984 film called Firestarter. I have to admit it’s fun to imagine throwing fireballs with my mind and satisfying to think of them hitting their marks.
But mean-spirited behavior as an excuse for comedy turns me off. I do not find the Mrs. Doubtfire’s of the world endearing under any circumstances. Excusing and forgiving bad behavior in a film or novel can be justified when the writing brings you to a denouement deriving from the conversion experiences of the protagonists. That journey is worth following, sometimes even inspiring. However, excusing bad behavior because it’s presented as endearingly comedic just leaves me cold. I don’t get it. Why is bad behavior in the form of making someone else’s life miserable, causing them tons of trouble, supposed to endear the perpetrator to the observer?
I can no longer remember the triggering event, or even if there was one, in my early thirties that caused me to decide to become a good person. I hadn’t been a bad person before that period, but I experienced a rebirth of sorts, a metanoia, where I made a decision to walk down a path that I called “being a good person.” For me, that transition was about a reordering of my life priorities. My emphases changed, and my life opened up. It was in that time period that I stopped having specific goals in my life about achieving more, like getting married again (this was B.H., before Herb) or targeting a rung on the career ladder.
I had somehow refocused on being in the moment. And the psychic space around me opened up into a universe of possibilities. The opportunities for dating and the suitors knocking on my door multiplied. My interactions with my staff and customers blossomed into mentoring relationships and long-term friendships. Perhaps the universe of possibilities had always been there, and I only needed emotionally to stand still and feel safe long enough to smell the proverbial roses. I think one way of looking at that time period might be to say that I had embraced, in the Buddhist tradition, an attitude of lovingkindness and mindfulness towards myself.
The very first lesson I ever learned from Ani Pema Chödrön was an admonition to stop doing violence to oneself, to stop the seemingly endless negativity towards oneself of girls with well developed guilt reflexes. Lovingkindness begins with the self and empowers the individual to expand it out into the world. Emotional security is about feeling safe not just from outside influences that scare and harm, but also from internal thoughts that do the same. I’m still not very good at lovingkindness to myself, and I need regular reminders.
A few years ago, I had lost (or had stolen) a new pair of expensive prescription glasses and a camera used for work and couldn’t bring myself to get past punishing myself by not replacing them. I was telling my priest that story one Sunday when he, very seriously, said to me, “You’re forgiven, Lee,” making the sign of the cross before me, “now go get yourself a new pair of glasses.” I’m so grateful when the people around me remind me that I am forgiven, that I am entitled to kindness in my life, and that it’s when I experience kindness towards me that I can then extend kindness towards everyone else.
I used to aspire to being known as smart. Now, I’m delighted when someone says that I’m kind. I’ll take kindness over being smart every time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but this holiday season, which I have purposefully trimmed of excess activities, is still too busy, stressful and filled with physical and mental running around. I have bravely said No to kind invitations to socialize. I have shrugged off the vague obligations, recognizing that I don’t owe anyone an excuse for why I choose not to do something. Shouldn’t “I don’t want to” and “I’m going to be busy keeping myself company” be sufficient reasons to avoid unwanted activities?
I had to go into town (Boulder, population 300,000) today for an appointment. The choking traffic around road work as I approached my appointment made me late. (Okay, so I should have left earlier. I admit that I always underestimate the time needed to get anywhere. I’m an optimist!) The frenetic dueling cars vying for parking spaces had nothing over the dueling cars vying to get out of the parking lot. Turning left was going to be a long wait for those of us sitting at Stop signs. I prayed fervently for no fender benders for all those in this and every other parking lot today and the rest of this holiday week.
Now that my grandchildren are older at ages 6, 9 and 11, their parents have helped to shift the focus away from Christmas presents and towards doing things for others. So, from a grandma’s point of view, there isn’t a lot to do in terms of “making Christmas” for kids. For that, I am thankful. We told the family that we weren’t doing presents this year, and we’ve increased our gifts to organizations that are helping victims of disasters, both the ones originating from natural and human causes. We’ve opted for a dinner theater experience for everyone, and we’re celebrating our son’s birthday on the 22nd with a lunch get-together. We’re foregoing our annual orgy of excess this year and, we hope, every year hereafter.
My girlfriend had a wonderful idea yesterday. She was remarking on how so many stores instruct their checkout clerks to tell their customers the amount they’ve saved by shopping there. She pointed out that unless she does something different with those savings, like sharing them with others who need help, the savings feel selfish. Her comments gave me pause. Just think of how much additional charitable giving there could be if we each donated those savings instead of pocketing them.
The religious significance of Christmas is the incarnation of God as human. Incarnation is important. From a human perspective, incarnation makes things real, including, in a sense, making God real as a human experience or knowledge of God. Incarnation validates us, as humans, as being important and significant to God. We may be puny humans, but God values us and loves us, just as we are, right where we happen to be, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, however lovable or unlovable we turn out.
I think my girlfriend’s idea of intentionally sharing those store savings is about making our charitable impulses incarnational. It’s not enough to think about sharing with those in need. We’ve got to make it happen, for real, by writing the check and giving the cash. Now, that would feel like Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Inevitable: the death of news as we know it

The familiar and revered
have died
passed on
overcome by another season
other reasons
Nature deals extinction
for animal and plant species
Losing hands
loosening grips
memory or imagination
history or invention
Why not news media
Delivery mechanisms
stagecoaches and trains
papyrus and ink
remnants of days gone by

Like the summer annual
bright and brighter
for a moment
leading us to believe
summer will last forever
But its premise fades
blowing into the autumn breeze
precursor of the leaves
unleashed from trees

light as a breath
blow in on winter’s watch

Learning to let go
not mourning
not cheering
simply watching
the news slip away
in this print form
not quite believing
news will come again
in a new form

Ciphers constructed of
electric ions
speeding on
fibers thin as a notion
that we’ll become
accustomed to
like the lamp on
the table next to the photo
of great-great-great grand relatives
whose names we barely remember
whose stories we never knew
like the next generation’s
old stuff that got saved
sometimes inadvertently

Do you want to be the one
announcing the death of a generation
or proclaiming the beginning of the next?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Frazzled Moms and Over-Weening Expectations

I just read an article in the New York Times about frazzled volunteer moms who are pushing back. The point of the article is that over-achiever volunteer moms, or should I say, over-guilted moms, have finally hit the wall and figured out that they need to scale back for their own health and their relationships' well-being.
I think the article had it right as far as it goes, but it basically, in my opinion, misses the point. As wonderful and needed as are the decorated classrooms for seasonal events or fundraisers for all manner of extras for teachers and students, maybe, just maybe, the answer is that we need to scale back our expectations and get along with less.
That certainly is how we are handling our family’s resources and needs right now in the face of retirement and declining savings. We still want to help the people that we have helped in the past, but we also have to do that with many fewer resources. So, it’s time to look at everything anew, together, and discuss and discern what’s important today and what we’re capable of realistically.
We’re having little Christmas this year, which means that we’re not decorating or hosting a huge holiday dinner at home. We’re also not giving gifts to anyone, and we’ve let the family know that. What we are doing is hosting one family gathering at the local dinner theatre so that everyone, from grandchildren to great-grandmother and in-laws, can spend an evening together, enjoying the same musical play, and eating a nice dinner that no one has slaved in the kitchen over all day.
It will be about the experience of being together and enjoying each other’s company and not about feverishly rushing from store to store or Web site to Web site trying to find the perfect gift. Because, let’s face it, no one in our family needs anything more to make them happy. We as a family are blessed to have enough stuff. It is good for our souls to spend time walking the dogs at the Humane Society, knitting hats for the homeless, and sitting and chatting with the lonely.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dashing the Hopes of the Poor

When my husband Herb was in the hospital during his kidney transplant surgery in early October, I reflected on the great good fortune our family was enjoying through the generosity of the donor's family and the excellent transplant program in which Herb was enrolled. As the days progressed and Herb recovered, I also reflected on how intense my involvement was, and needed to be, in order for him to recover fully from the transplant and sustain the health necessary to maintain the donor kidney's viability.

One of the things that struck me fully and forcefully between the eyes was the need for a recipient to have a functioning family support system. Without such a support system, a patient simply wouldn't even qualify to enter a transplant program. After all, donor organs are scarce commodities, and prudence requires careful stewardship of such organs. 

The ability to be a compliant recipient who adheres to all the medical regimen after the transplant is a necessary requirement. This is an important aspect of transplant surgeries over and above any issues of health insurance and ability to pay for the costly surgeries and even more costly anti-rejection immuno-suppresant medications for the rest of the recipient's life. 

In our case, because Herb is 71 and in the Medicare system, his surgery and medications are largely paid for through Medicare and his private Medicare gap insurance. (Incidentally, you'd be surprised at how big a reduction the physicians, hospitals and other care providers take as participants in the government-based Medicare program.)

I just read in AlterNet that the State of Arizona has cut payment for certain kinds of transplants for patients on Medicaid due to budget constraints. It chills my soul to hear of this. Talk about taking the hope of the poor away, not to mention condemning them to death merely for being poor. Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


What comes after the dust?
she asked in quiet tones
meant to be heard only by herself

What came before has been fulsome
and finite
the facts are known
but not the motives

Each lifetime measured in days
unless you were unlucky
to have died
before you developed memories
or merited photographs
and aching desire
of some One
to taste your essence

Pleasure is so overrated
knowing that you will disappear
the way you came
suddenly, without announcement
Promises peripheral
like the ribbons binding
the presents she forgot to give

The time before the dust
Was it eternity or something less?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King Sunday Sermon

[This is the sermon that I preached as the wrap-up stewardship campaign preacher at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Longmont, Colorado, this morning.]

            As some of you may know, my husband, Herb, received a kidney transplant on October 5th. I was in San Francisco visiting girlfriends, and Herb was in Washington state, where he was living and working as a consultant, when the phone call came at 12:30 at night. The transplant center nurse said, “Get ready,” because a kidney was going to become available, and Herb was one of three possible recipients. Less than three hours later, the nurse called back, and said, “You’re it.” Herb got on the phone and booked a flight back to DIA, and I booked a flight from San Francisco. We arrived at DIA within 15 minutes of each other, and we drove to Porter Hospital straightaway. By 5:00 PM, Herb was in pre-op, and by 7:30, he was in surgery. At 10:45, the surgeon came out to tell me Herb was doing well, and the new kidney was doing great, producing urine already. The surgeon said that the donor match was as good as if the donor had been a sibling, except that this donor was much younger than Herb, who is 71.
            As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at the hospital over the next several days. What I noticed was the grace all around me. I worked my online network all during Herb’s transplant and recovery, posting messages on Facebook, Twitter and the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv and to other groups I am part of. What I asked was not only prayers for Herb, but also prayers for the family of the donor. While Herb and our family were the recipients of this unbelievable gift of a kidney, the donor’s family was grieving over the loss of a loved one who had died, and who in death, had shared his or her precious organs so that others, like Herb, might have life. That’s right, that Herb might have life, because, you see, Herb had begun to decline from his kidney disease, and we knew we were nearing the end, when this incredible grace came our way.
            I want to talk with you this morning about grace and our call as followers of Jesus to be stewards of the message of God’s grace, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
            Today is Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday when we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus. Yet, the Gospel lesson today is disturbing. The image that comes to mind when we think of the word “king” is of someone who is exalted, wearing royal robes with a golden crown upon his head, sitting on a throne of power, ruling over his subjects near and far. Yet, the lesson today tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and of him being mocked by the soldiers, who offer him sour wine and say, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the criminals hanging beside Jesus mocks him, saying “Are you not the Messiah?” – the Messiah, the anointed one. The thief demands, “Save yourself and us!”
            But Jesus is not that kind of king. He’s a new and different kind of king. We already know from the stories we have read in the Gospels of his three years of ministry leading up to his encounter with the cross that Jesus didn’t think the way that the rabbis thought he should think and that he didn’t do the things that his culture and society thought he ought to do. The nerve of the man! He hung out with prostitutes and Pharisees and tax collectors. He touched lepers and beggars and spoke up for adulteresses. He asked men who fished and tanned leather to become his companions and followers, his disciples. He broke the social mores of his culture.
            But Jesus didn’t behave the way he did because he was a rebellious guy. His motivation was not to thumb his nose at the people in power. He did what he did out of a different sense of what’s important and who’s important than the powerful people all around him had and out of respect and love for us humans. Jesus lived his life and did his ministry in the way that he did, because God created us as his beloved children and wants us to know him and be in relationship with him. God wants to be in relationship with us, and he sent Jesus, his son, to become flesh and blood so that we could have that relationship with God in a way that we can “get.”
            Jesus is a different kind of a king. Jesus is so exalted that he doesn’t have to prove himself to the soldiers or the criminals hanging on the crosses next to him. Jesus knows who he is: He is the son of God, come down from heaven, born from Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, sent down to earth to be in relationship with us humans, to live among us and teach us the lessons of love, of ultimate love and sacrifice, by dying on the cross. Jesus says, “Father,” calling on God, his father, “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Instead of showing his power and lording it over the soldiers and the thieves and those gathered at the foot of the cross, instead of sending down thunderbolts as the mythical Zeus, Olympian king of the gods might have done in Greek mythology, Jesus speaks, and his words are words of prayer, talking to God, his father, asking for mercy and forgiveness for those who are crucifying him, crucifying him to death.
            Jesus is a different kind of king. He is the kind of king who can humble himself to mingle with the poorest of the poor and the sinners and wretches, because he is the king of love and the exemplar of grace. Jesus came to teach us the message of God’s ultimate love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is pure gift and pure grace. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, but God gives us God’s love nonetheless. God’s love for us is boundless. We make mistakes, we sin, we turn away from God and towards the temptations of the world, and still, God forgives us and calls us back to be in relationship with him. That is grace, that is love without limits, that is love that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn.
            How many of you are parents? Do you remember your own childhood and how your parents loved you and showed you their love? Have your children ever made you really mad? So mad that you could just spit? And yet, somehow, through all the frustrations of parenting and picking up your kids after they’ve made a mess and you’ve had to come in and help them clean it up and maybe even rescue them, you have done these things out of love; love, pure and simple, love that includes forgiveness, love that supports and uplifts and upholds.
            Think about one of those times. Close your eyes and reflect on that time for a moment. [Pause] What you are seeing is grace. You were a channel of grace, a channel of God’s love in that moment. You could have said, “I told you so.” You could have said, “You got yourself into that mess, now you’re going to have to get yourself out of it.” But you weren’t that kind of king to your kids, and Jesus isn’t that kind of king to us. Because you were a purveyor of love and grace, because you follow Jesus, and he is the ultimate source of love and grace.
            Now my assignment this morning is to talk with you about stewardship, because today is the wrap-up of this year’s annual stewardship pledge campaign. And that’s what I’m going to do. I want to talk with you about your call and my call as baptized members of the Body of Christ, Christ’s church here on earth, to be stewards of the message of God’s grace, of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
            We often talk about stewardship in terms of the stewardship of time, talent and treasure, and we certainly are called to use in right relationship the time, talent and treasure with which we have been entrusted in this life. But even more fundamental than that is that we are called to be stewards of the message that Christ came down from heaven to impress upon us, and that is the message of God’s grace, God’s love. That God’s love is around us everywhere, and we are called to talk about it, to share it with others, to invite others to come and see, just as Jesus told his first disciples to come and see, when he called them to follow him.
            When I was at the hospital those first days after Herb’s transplant, I saw grace all around me, and it was easy to talk to the nurses, doctors and aides about it. It was easy to say “thank you” and have people know that I meant that I was grateful for the care they were giving to Herb. It was easy to post to Facebook and Twitter that I was praying for the donor’s family, for donors everywhere, and for those still waiting for transplant organs to be gifted to them, because I was so present with the grace that had been bestowed upon our family.
            And it was humbling to think about those who need transplants but who don’t have families to look after them or health insurance to pay for their medical care, because that means that they probably wouldn’t be eligible to receive the transplants that they need. Being humbled by these thoughts aligns me with my king, Jesus Christ, who humbled himself, fully God become fully human, who sacrificed himself upon the cross that we might know and be transformed by God’s boundless love.
            So, if we are transformed by God’s boundless love, the question for all of us and for each of us is how have I been a good steward of God’s message of love? How have I given and shared out of the gifts I have been given, out of my time, my talent and my treasure to make God’s love known to a hurting world? Giving with the grace that God has given each of us means that we give more than we expect to get. That we give out of an attitude of love and gratitude. That we give sacrificially. Being touched by God’s grace means that our family’s budget has been adjusted so that we spend somewhat less on ourselves so that we can spend somewhat more on showing others God’s love and grace. Changing the way we eat so that we can change the way someone with fewer resources eats. Changing the way we shop so that we can give more dollars to change the way St. Stephen’s and the Diocese of Colorado and the Diocese of Haiti carry on their work of sharing God’s love and grace. Think about it. In what ways can you change the way that you live so that you can give more of yourself, your time, your talent, your money to change the way your church and your community can show forth God’s love and grace more abundantly and fully to more people? Isn’t that what being a baptized and beloved child of God is all about?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Look how the weather
rolls across the states
over mountains, rivers and lakes
over trucks on the interstate
and cars in driveways
rolling over plans
no after school tutoring
no evening book club
no pub group with the new
strawberry beer and brats

Honey, come beneath the covers
Warm me with your breath
and cover me in dreams
for all the long winter
Fill my desire with pumpkin pie
and hot rum toddies
Fill my days with longing
for the short winter nights
My memory of springs, summers
and autumns buried beneath
the frozen tundra
My hands in unceasing motion
with the need to keep warm

The trance of the indoors
before the fireplace, hot cocoa
laced with liqueur, my hair
laced with your scent, like
cinnamon on dry desert skin
like acquiescence to a quest
noble with vows of freedom
for those enslaved by talk
of majesty’s return
to crown our forgotten reveries
entangled hopes and words
skimming the tips
of tongues

Unleashed in the white snow
and brittle ice
a billowing of sirens
on an Olympian outing
spit from the mouth of Jove
Janus holds the key, unsharing
Sirens dancing on one leg
lifting our faces skyward
snowmelt on frozen skin
anamnesis fragmented
chimera clothed in ether

It is futile to try to remember
It is futile to try to forget
It is futile in the grip of winter
But it is promised
Spring, summer and autumn will
come again
and all will be

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The right sequence

Restraint is always difficult for an extrovert, and I am an ENTP on the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Much is being posted on the HoBD (House of Bishops/Deputies) List and in blogs about the consent process for the Bishop-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, the Rev. Daniel H. Martins. I would love to get my two cents in, but recognize that my first duty is to my colleagues on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colorado, which will be voting at our mid-November meeting on Martins.
Our Standing Committee has worked very intentionally for the past year plus on our collegiality – how we work together. We started the process several years ago by focusing our annual retreat on understanding our role and responsibilities. We had frank conversations with our bishop and one another over perceptions of clergy behavior and attitudes and those of laity. We voiced our apprehensions and vowed to stay connected to one another even as we strove to work out the kinks in our relationships.
We haven’t always been productive in our talks, but we have agreed to stay at the table and engaged with one another. It is a process, one to which we are all committed, even when it feels like we haven’t made much progress from the last time we met.
So, I am not going to voice any opinions about Martins until after I’ve voiced them in the Standing Committee meeting, because that honors the right sequence of events.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Canadian House of Bishops Meet with Lutherans

I commend to you “A Word to the Church from the House of Bishops” of the Anglican Church of Canada, dated October 26, from Montreal where the House of Bishops have been meeting for six days. In this conjoining of three separate meetings was “House and Spouse,” which included bishops’ spouses, who opted to gather as friends rather than have an educational program. As has been their practice for several years, the Canadian House of Bishops met jointly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Conference of Bishops to dialogue about living into their full communion partnership. 
The Canadian bishops reflected on why they meet, who they are when they meet, and how they fit into the overall church structure throughout their time together with the Lutheran bishops and separately. They reached several conclusions about how they will meet in the future. Their desire is for greater opportunities for education and theological discussions, but they eschew outside presentations without specific purpose, and they do not wish to be lobbied. Like The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, they choose closed sessions to enhance free exchange of ideas without press scrutiny.
In closed session and in an update from the Lutheran bishops, the distribution of the respective churches’ statements on sexuality was discussed. The Canadian bishops observed that there has been little response despite wide dissemination of the statements. Their sense is that the churches are engaging other areas of mission and ministry even as issues of sexuality are not settled.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An insider looking in from the outside

The Internet is both gift and curse:  gift because we can stay on top of what is happening in distant events, blow by blow, and curse because we are incited by necessarily incomplete reports to all manner of emotions. Certainly this has been the case in the online reporting by Episcopal News Service (ENS) of the just ended Executive Council meeting in Salt Lake City and the correspondingly swift blogosphere commentary.

For this writer, the experience has been unique. As a member of Executive Council, but one who was absent from Salt Lake City due to caring for a husband just barely three weeks out of kidney transplant surgery, I got to experience what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Granted, I did have the advantage of following somewhat minimally the written reports, proposed resolutions and financial reports posted to the GCO Extranet Web site dedicated to Executive Council’s use. They did not, however, tell the story of the discussions that took place in plenary sessions, in committee sessions or in informal conversations at meals, breaks and evening relaxation over a libation.

So, let me share a few observations as an insider looking in from the outside.

About Communications and the Need to Know

If Council and management didn’t know before, let me point out the obvious: there are a lot of people, both those who keenly love The Episcopal Church and wish it well and those who have antipathy for The Episcopal Church and deem it broken, who want to know what is happening in the councils of the church, some to the extreme of anxiousness bordering on unhealthy obsession. So, from my point of view, I think it behooves Council and the church’s communications department to do a good and timely job of communicating what is happening, in specifics and in as much detail as seems necessary in each instance, including some comments about the reasoning behind why decisions and actions are made and taken. When I was chair of a state sports association in which competitive juices ran high, I often over-communicated, and some people didn’t read what I wrote. But for those who had the need to know, my communiqués kept unrest down to a dull roar in my two-year term.

When a meeting is a multi-day meeting, as are Council meetings, it takes time for the entire story to unfold, and it takes time for the reporting on the story to get out, parcel by parcel. It is not helpful to anyone, including to those who are critics of Council, for analysis that reads a lot more like potshots than thoughtful reflection to be engaged piecemeal. The immediate case in point is the disparagement of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s comments found in the ENS story entitled “Presiding bishop warns Executive Council about ‘suicide by governance’” posted on October 24. More information offering a fuller picture of the context of Bishop Jefferts Schori’s comments and Council members’ responses to them was reported by ENS in its October 25 story entitled “Executive Council passes reduced 2011 budget” posted after the Council meeting ended.

Between the two ENS news stories, there were many blog postings that zeroed in on the sound bites from the first news story and mused about what was meant without any circling back to the Presiding Bishop or to the context of the Council meeting’s discussions. And yes, of course, it wasn’t really possible to circle back to either – yet. The October 25th ENS story after the Council meeting was helpful in providing a more fulsome picture. I had the opportunity, being at home managing lab and doctors’ visits and six times a day meds and preparing dietary-restricted meals, to read many of those blogs. My main impression is that there sure are a lot of people who have a need to hear themselves talk and who believe that line by line scrutiny of another’s comments or actions, as reported by third parties, somehow makes the bloggers feel smarter and righter. My response is, hire a therapist.

For any of you who has attempted the daunting job of reporting on events live, or as soon afterwards as possible, you know that it is a big responsibility to choose which of the myriad of important actions and remarks to report and how best to report them accurately and without bias. My hat is off to the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg of ENS for the stellar job that she does in this regard. The statement from Executive Council, which is typically written by a team of three writers (myself included), is meant to be more of a picture of the experience of the Council members during the meeting and is directed at our fellow members of The Episcopal Church. We try to give a flavor of what has happened, but the statement is neither report nor minutes.

About Executive Council, Deputies and Bishops and Governance

I strongly believe that speaking about specific points of disagreement about perspectives and choices is of paramount importance. In a civil, democratic church community, speech as exemplified in conversations and dialogue is what is important in order to advance mission and ministry. Dialogue must be between principals and not amidst a circle of third party kibitzers. Now, if the kibitzers engage the principals, then they become principals in the dialogue, too.

I happen to think the Presiding Bishop’s comments about the exercise of the roles of deputies versus bishops as being diocesan-based versus whole church based is inaccurate. I don’t think it’s something that can be generalized, because there are as many versions of how diocese-influenced or diocese-loyal any deputy or bishop might be as there are deputies and bishops. It’s even more complicated than that. I think it also depends on the nature of the question before the deputies and bishops as to how strongly or, if at all, their diocesan influence or loyalty weighs in. Individuals at both ends of the conservative and liberal spectrum seem to want to paint the picture as absolute, either A or B, and it’s neither. Deputies and bishops are thinking individuals who have deeply held convictions and widely different experiences, and they are complex and cannot be reduced to stereotypes.

My observations lead me to believe that the most important two qualities of church leaders in any role is profound, utter love of the Body of Christ and being equipped through both Christian and secular formation for the role undertaken. Personal politics or theological leanings are much less important. Being unprepared is, in my opinion, inexcusable. I believe that those of us who vote to elect church leaders have an equal responsibility to pray for, lift up, challenge, inform and dialogue with those leaders whether or not they were our candidates of choice.

“Suicide by governance” is a wonderful sound bite, but that’s all. It’s actually an unfortunate turn of phrase, because it invites more emotional outbursts than it does serious reflection. And seriously, The Episcopal Church really does have some issues to reflect and act upon regarding its governance structure. My sense is that everyone can agree that something needs to be done, but what we cannot agree upon – yet – is how much to deconstruct and restructure, and the when and how of it.

Structural change will always be resisted by the status quo and those most invested in the status quo, whether by virtue of benefits that they derive from the status quo or from nostalgia about traditions that have blessed them and theirs. But it will always be better to be our own agents of change and bear the lumps that will surely heap upon us as we engage change than to be the remaining and passive recipients of abandonment, apathy and neglect, or rebellion and revolution. The very human reaction I see all around me in the church is the emotion of not trusting our leaders and not wanting to be led into a season where we will be taking some lumps before it gets better. Who ever said that moving forward would always be on the primrose path with others beyond our sight taking the lumps, but not us?

Friday, October 15, 2010


Being the caretaker is in some ways harder than being the patient. The focus is rightly on the patient. Your job is to do and take care of, while the patient’s job is to rest and get better. When the patient is your husband of almost thirty years who has consistently said, “the ‘please’ is silent,” partially in jest, your forbearance sometimes wears thin.
Anyone who knows me well knows that patience is not my strong suit. I have learned through training and reflection to exercise patience, because in most instances it works better than impatience. I know, my pragmatism is showing.
Patience doesn’t come naturally to me, although a driven sense of self-discipline does. When the pop psychologists itemized the characteristics of Type A personalities, I felt like someone was reciting my psych profile out loud.
Luckily for my husband, while my patience quotient is low, my duty index is off the charts. I’m the daughter of a father whose epitaph says “Duty and Sacrifice Beyond Reproach.” I emulate those sentiments without even trying. They are as much a part of my DNA as the color of my skin. They are my cultural legacy as a filial Chinese firstborn.
Hospice, a movement younger than I am, has come to appreciate the importance of respite for caretakers. Likewise, church guilds also institutionalize home delivered meals and housecleaning services for families with recently hospitalized members. Nobody sends the caretakers flowers, but maybe they should. I think I will from now on.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Public Outrage

The aftermath of Tyler Clementi’s suicide and Liu Xiaobo’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize is provoking similar reactions of public outrage and humiliation to their oppressors.
Since Clementi’s suicide after being outed on live Webcam by his Rutgers roommate, there have been numerous efforts to speak out against homophobic bullying. Examples include The Trevor Project, which provides resources to end GLBTQ teen suicides, the It Gets Better videos project, launched September 21st to respond to another GLBTQ teen who suicided, Billy Lucas of Indiana, which records affirming messages directed at GLBTQ teens, and amending the 2009 Safe Schools Improvement Act to include anti-bullying language.
The It Gets Better project has gone viral with new videos posted daily by people from all walks of life, including Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson. The goal is to affirm publicly the value of GLBTQ teens’ lives and to state unequivocally the moral wrongness of those who perpetuate hate language and bullying acts.
Chinese political prisoner Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for writing a document promoting democracy. Calls for freeing Liu have come from President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Kan and are deeply humiliating to the Chinese government, which says that Liu’s imprisonment is an internal issue.
Social media used to elicit activism is electrifying. Everyone can be an activist in one’s own home. The public outrage is loud, instantaneous and omnipresent. The humiliation is deserved for those to whom the outrage is directed. Let us hope that humiliation will lead to changed behavior.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Planning Your Life

You can have a plan for your life, but your life also has its own timeline, independent of your druthers. So it is when you are a transplant patient. You get onto the list, if you pass the screenings, and time advances until you rise to the top. Nothing can be done to speed that rise.

Herb and I opted to continue living instead of engaging in waiting as a lifestyle. Friends these last couple of days have said, “We didn’t know Herb needed a kidney.” Our not telling was about shaping our lives. We believe that life is for the living. Herb wanted to be Herb and not “the sick guy.” He wanted me to be Lee and not “the sad wife.” Humans have a tendency to project their fears onto others. Herb and I decided not to take on anyone else’s fears.

Herb continued to work and consult in nuclear engineering, mining the wisdom and knowledge developed over a distinguished career, participating to make a positive difference. I continued to volunteer with the church, influencing reflection and change, touching individuals, encouraging bravery and joy in life’s challenges. The Gifts of God for the People of God. We give, because that is the only meaningful choice in living.

We’re on the other side, so to speak, but the downhill journey is still potentially dangerous. We are grateful for the donor’s choice, and we pray for the donor’s family and the ones who didn’t receive this kidney and their families. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Formula for Success

One teacher’s insight and leadership led to a turnaround at Brockton High School in Massachusetts. It’s the largest high school in the state with 4,100 students. Ten years ago, only 25% of the students passed state-mandated exit exams, and a third dropped out.

The turnaround at Brockton is attributed to a renewed emphasis on reading and writing in all disciplines, including gym. The emphasis is on teaching students to think, speak and write clearly and logically. Susan Szachowicz recruited fellow teachers to meet voluntarily on Saturdays to brainstorm how to incorporate reading and writing lessons into every class.

The refocus was methodical and done without alienating the teachers union. The monthly two-hour teachers meeting was recast as a training session to help teachers gain additional tools. The school’s fortunes began to turn around quickly, with sharp improvements in test scores. In the long term, only one holdout teacher was dismissed after due process. The others had jumped on board as encouraging results began to surface.

Recently, Brockton has outperformed 90% of the schools in Massachusetts despite the bias that small schools perform better. The key to success can be boiled down to a few key teacher tenets:

1) A shared focus on reading, reasoning, speaking and writing with training to support that focus.

2) A commitment to do the hard work over the long haul and continuous encouragement and training to maintain engagement.

3) Raising students’ horizons with college goals and generous praise and acknowledgement of students’ milestones.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We are Family

My father’s parents came from China in the 1920’s, leaving behind two young sons, permanently. Uncle No. 1’s youngest son, First Cousin Cheuk Seang, whom I have never met, still resides in the family village of Shalan near Guangzhou (formerly Canton) in the province of Guangdong. Everyone in the village is a Lee. All our first cousins bear the name Cheuk as our generation name that precedes our given names. I am Cheuk Gin, and my brothers are Cheuk Mon and Cheuk Kin.
Cheuk Seang writes understandable English in emails, and we have recently begun corresponding. Cheuk Seang tells us Shalan Tong is neglected, with the able-bodied seeking jobs and fortunes in Chinese cities and abroad in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. Only the elderly, women and children remain in a once prosperous village that supported generations of our family.
Global warming has impacted the monsoons, increasing their duration and devastation. Where Shalan Tong once had land that could be used to sun dry crops, there now exist worn roads that are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So, Cheuk Seang, an entrepreneur who runs a small handicrafts factory in his home, has embarked on building a road to move his goods to Chinese markets and to provide a place for drying the crops.
Cheuk Seang has reached out to all the Lees, in the village and abroad, to pay for this road. My American first cousins and I have all responded, sending money to our ancestral home, because we are family.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Appearance and Self-Worth

Are cosmetics really “cost-metrics”? An expensive system of make-up products designed to pronounce worth based on appearance? An AlterNet article pointed a finger at the eye-popping profiteering of cosmetics companies whose marketing budgets explode with celebrity hucksters.

Women in stores often comment on my facial skin and how smooth and young-looking it is. They inevitably ask about my skin care products and beauty regimen and are amazed when I answer “None.” I use soap and a cheap, nice-smelling, drugstore astringent, because I like feeling clean.

My attitude towards makeup is that it should be fun and feel good on my face, just like my choice of clothing should be fun and comfortable to wear. I have preferences about the texture of makeup, but it shouldn’t break my budget. I’m not trying to look like someone else, and drugstore makeup works great. Let’s face it:  none of us gets to Photoshop our faces before stepping out.

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, in the throes of my corporate career climb, I succumbed to designer styles. I was less secure in my skin and more involved in others’ opinions. I still admire sleek designer clothes, but I choose not to buy them anymore. Today, comfort is my priority followed by a penchant for fun with artistic flare.

When I taught budgeting to displaced homemakers, my advice was “Splurge small to treat yourself. Buy a lipstick or nail polish, not a dress.” It’s still solid advice for both ego and pocketbook.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pray for a Season of Healing

Herb and I arrived in Brussels on Thursday morning, leaving Boulder early Wednesday when the Fourmile Canyon fire was still burning. There was smoke in the air, although it was too dark to see the airborne ash flakes. It’s tough to leave on vacation when your neighbors are in extremis over loss of homes, livelihoods and life as it’s been. We’ve anxiously followed the news and learned almost 200 homes have burned. The fire is not yet contained.

We’ve also followed the story of the Gainesville “pastor” and his hate-filled “Burn the Quran on September 11th” plan. General Petraeus, Secretary Clinton, President Obama and the Archbishop of Canterbury have all weighed in. We gladly read that the idiot has recanted and now strongly admonishes others not to replicate his canceled plan. I have no doubt that powerful people communicated with him unequivocally. I am saddened the damage has already been done.

The news that twelve American soldiers face charges of being a “kill team” in Afghanistan that murdered civilians and collected body parts as souvenirs adds to this season of sadness. These soldiers are teenagers and 20-somethings. War is hell on earth and evil incarnate, corrupting all participants and begetting more evil. I am ashamed for these soldiers and sorry for their victims and the families of victims and guilty soldiers alike.

So, you’ll understand if I’m not chirping about my vacation just yet. Lord, have mercy on us all. Pray for a season of healing. We need it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Give Yourself a Gift!

I had a delightful dinner tonight with a friend I haven’t seen in several years. Life happened, and we drifted apart. I’m grateful that she reached out and invited me to reconnect. From our first words exchanged, it was like no time had passed.

My 25-year old daughter is very good at reclaiming and maintaining friendships. I’ve watched her network grow and mature since high school. Occasionally I’m even invited into her network and encouraged to Friend a Facebook friend.

In today’s environment of home, school and work separated by miles and even states, it’s no longer everyday happenstance that we encounter our friends at the butcher, the baker or the local Starbucks.

While it’s true that social media like Facebook and Twitter facilitate quick, easy exchanges of Status – here’s what I’m doing right now, Photos – check out whom I’m with, and Activities – look what I’m reading, supporting or boycotting, it’s equally true that you must be intentional to have real relationships. The sheer volume of Facebook and Twitter posts can bury you under updates. Friends who don’t post often simply fall out of sight.

Staying connected is about seeing each other regularly, whether it’s seeing the actual person or the virtual person online. It’s about having an actual conversation rather than just bumping into each other in passing. Connection is about engagement, and engagement is about spending the time to learn what’s really going on with the other person.

Reach out and renew a friendship. You’ll thank yourself!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Political Cartoons

A political cartoon depicting the Mexican flag with the eagle lying on its back in a pool of blood, riddled with bullets, is raising protests among many Mexicans. They object to this symbol of patriotism being used to reference the drug wars in Mexico that have contributed to rising murder rates.
Political or editorial cartoons have a long history of effectiveness in making strong statements about people, events and conditions in the public arena. Such cartoons typically use stereotypes and caricatures to make their points, often without the addition of text. Easily recognizable symbols are used as metaphors to establish a cartoon’s context.
When does a political cartoon go too far in its use of stereotypes, caricatures or iconic symbols, becoming a form of violence against the people being depicted? Are there symbols, such as flags and religious holy books, that should be exempted from use as political fodder?
A politician is generally fair game to be caricatured and made fun of, even humiliated, for her positions on legislation. But a cartoon showing a caricature of a politician’s race (e.g., slanty eyes on an Asian candidate) is clearly racism in the guise of free speech. The former attacks the politico’s opinions while the latter attacks the politico’s personhood. Maybe I’m naïve or overly polite, but my gauge for distinguishing between the two is, “Would I say that or show that if I were a guest in the other’s home?” I’d ask the same question about flags and religious holy books.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Breaking Through Anxiety

Anxiety is that gut-clenching feeling that makes you want to scream in frustration, because there doesn’t seem to be any escape from the present predicament, be it about money, institutional morass or broken relationships. Remaining anxious leads to a downward spiral of increased anxiety, physical and mental ailments, anger, bad behavior and despair.
Changing the current context is critical to opening up one’s thinking to enable forward movement. Until you get a grip on your anxiety, it’s difficult, maybe impossible, to see opportunity when it comes your way. When you’re anxious, you are the opposite of an opportunity magnet.
For me, what works to break through anxiety is stepping back from the crevasse, breathing deeply, calming myself and taking stock. Practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) refer to “break state” as the act of changing the current emotional or physical context to enter a neutral state from which possibilities have the spaciousness to be encountered and developed.
Stepping away from your present state and turning in a new direction are essential first steps. That might mean going out for a walk or to a museum, writing haiku or baking bread. Learning something new builds neural connections. Refresh yourself like you refresh your computer screen.
“You've got to accentuate the positive
 Eliminate the negative
 Latch on to the affirmative”
Those words crooned by Bing Crosby capture what’s needed: Count your blessings and focus on possibilities versus enumerating your losses and reliving your disappointments. Look up and out. That’s where life’s possibilities exist.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Top Ten Pet Peeves

Recent Facebook and Twitter posts cite things that annoy people.  Here’s my top ten list, not rank-ordered.
  1. Lying to me like I won’t catch on. I might be polite and not call you on it. I will definitely think less of you.
  2. Talking down to me like I’m stupid and uninformed. I already know you have privilege and you’re arrogant. Don’t rub it in my face.
  3. Not wiping off sticky containers before putting them away. I don’t like handling sticky containers or cleaning up after you.
  4. Eating and drinking straight out of serving containers and then putting them back. You’re being selfish, and you’re lazy. It’s unsanitary, and it grosses people out.
  5. Backtracking whether it’s driving or in group decision-making. That’s why I have triceps tats of forward-pointing red arrows. Always go forward; never go back. Refresh anything you revisit.
  6. Belittling someone in public. You’re a jerk, and I will call you on it if I can do so safely and without harming the object of your scorn.
  7. Manipulating me to do something. Just ask me directly. I like saying Yes. I also have exquisitely honed resistance responses.
  8. Hurrying me up when I’m not through . . . eating, talking, watching, reading, etc. I’d wait for you. Please wait for me. Exercise patience.
  9. Talking during the film in theaters. I will shush you firmly.
  10. Rudeness and bad manners. Life can sometimes be tough. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Quality of Our Conversations

Yesterday at a luncheon Glenn Beck came up in conversation. Before long, most people at the table had weighed in on Glenn Beck. For the record, I didn’t participate in this conversation, because I don’t find it helpful to criticize public pundits, who aren’t present to defend their positions.
These types of conversations seem futile to me. I question whether public pundits are really serious about their positions or if they’re just posturing because that’s their job. The fact that so many pundits reverse their positions from season to season gives me pause. Even if the pundits are sincere, such conversations are more about venting than about changing anything.
The comments swiftly moved beyond criticism to character attacks. One woman announced she was leaving, because Glenn Beck is one of her heroes, and she had heard enough. It’s like I said in a previous blog: sometimes our opinions feel like assaults to those who hear us speak.
I am keenly aware of how close recent elections have been with the country almost evenly divided on candidates, and presumably, on the opposing parties’ platforms. I wonder why we assume that most of those within earshot will be in agreement with our positions.
If the country is divided pretty equally, doesn’t that suggest we are as likely to sit down with someone who is diametrically opposed to our positions as someone who agrees with us? This reinforces for me the importance of learning how to converse civilly with those holding different views.