Monday, January 25, 2010

Leadership in The Episcopal Church

I heard a disturbing comment in a meeting last week, which was that the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church does not "represent" the membership of The Episcopal Church. That comment has caused me to reflect on the entire concept of leadership and elected leadership, especially as it relates to our beloved church. 
Upon reflection, I reject the idea that our elected leadership does not reflect our membership. After all, our leadership, including our bishops, are elected each step of the way, from the parish church electing its vestry members and diocesan delegates and calling its rector, to the diocesan delegates electing its Standing Committee, General Convention deputies and its diocesan bishop, to the General Convention deputies electing the presiding officers and Executive Council. 
The very concept of leadership requires leaders to lead, which means to step out in front of the body and bring the body forward through existing difficulties and to new horizons and new and newly reconciled relationships. Leadership is not about pandering to the anxieties of the members or maintaining the status quo no matter how good the status quo is perceived to be. The path is always forward and always new, even when we revisit older ways of doing things, because it will be a new thing, not precisely the same as the old thing, since time and change have come to pass. 
It is our responsibility as members of the body to elect leaders who possess the intellect, skills and commitment to do the hard work of leading and the courage to boldly lead even in the midst of different opinions about the way forward. And, I think, it should be our expectation that our leaders will challenge us in new and unexpected ways to be open to and to listen to ideas that are unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to us.
I believe that our charge as both leaders and followers, indeed, as Christians who live in love in community, is to live into the teaching of Romans 12:1-8  (Today's New International Version), which reads:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Flow and Networked Culture

I just read a timely article entitled "What is Implied by Living in a World of Flow" (English translation at written by Hubert Guillaud in French and posted to, which I commend to you. The article reports on the concept of "flow" and its implications on how we live today as presented by danah boyd in her talk at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York in November, 2009. boyd, who styles her name with only lower case letters, is a recent Ph.D. from iSchool (School of Information) at the University of California at Berkeley and Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, who works as a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research New England.
Flow can be described as the information stream that floats all around us. We consume it, add to it, and redirect and share pieces of it. One of the definitions of consciousness is that it is sensory awareness. One could characterize information as that of which one has sensory awareness. The Matrix film trilogy certainly did so with the image of the streams of computer 1's and 0's flowing on screen to symbolize the Matrix’s reality created by the sentient master computer.
Aspects of the world of flow reside in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs in which information is delivered, largely unedited, in real time from a multitude of self-selected sources for consumption by large numbers and often by the public at large. It has been said that information posted to the Internet is forever. It is certainly true that no information posted to the Internet is truly private even when one applies the privacy filters routinely and dutifully provided by online programs.
boyd is quoted in the article as saying, "Those who are most enamored with services like Twitter talk passionately about feeling as though they are living and breathing with the world around them, peripherally aware and in tune, adding content to the stream and grabbing from it when it is appropriate. Of course, this state is extremely delicate, plagued by information overload and weighed down by frustrating tools."
At 60 years old, I somewhat resemble boyd’s remarks.  I admit to being an “information junkie,” craving the almost hourly stimuli of an overflowing in-box with postings from news aggregators of both the progressive and conservative ilk including a few friends who share their notable newly received postings regularly, as well as being online with Facebook, Twitter and blogs, including my own blogs. This information flow is added to the magazines and other publications that reach me through the prosaic mail.
This wealth of information does make me feel more connected to the world at large in the sense that I feel like I know what’s going on in the world. Of course, I recognize in my rational mind that I don’t really know what’s really going on in the world and that I am merely comforted by an illusion of knowledge (shades of The Matrix). I don’t believe I’m alone in this state of illusion.
I suspect this is some of the fragility that boyd addresses in the flow – an illusion of “what is,” when it is really not that at all. For example, think about the privacy settings and privacy notices in your online programs. They’re there to satisfy the corporate lawyers whose job is to protect their online clients, and they’re there to give you the illusion that you are protected with a veneer of privacy as you share your stuff (writings, comments, photos and where you’ve been on the Internet) online. If you live online at all, try “Googling” yourself, and you will find that your name pops up in surprising places where you have been referenced without your knowledge.
boyd comments on four important characteristics of the world of flow or networked culture that are worth noting:
  • [Non-]Democratization: Democratization, often vaunted as a value of networked culture and mentioned as “leveling the playing field” for everyone including the person-on-the-ground in China or Africa, just doesn’t live up to its hype. Just because everyone has access to information doesn’t mean the information that is presented represents everyone. Sophistication in controlling the means of content delivery prevails.
  • Stimulation: Content which is most attention grabbing is content that gets viewed and shared, giving it disproportionate weight as compared with content that might actually have value and be important. Think about the 6:00 o’clock news and the dominance of human interest stories or the celebrity gossip magazines, columns and online sites.
  • Homophily: Homophily refers to the phenomenon, described in Bill Bishop’s book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, of people’s tendency to be attracted to and congregate with like-minded people. Humans’ proclivity to being comfortable and fitting in means that we stick with whom we know, what we like and what makes us feel like “we’re okay."
  • Power:  The old adage “Information is Power” couldn’t be more true in the world of flow. However, the adage needs to be updated to say, “The ability to control the mechanisms of the delivery of information is power.” Think whistleblowers and how their information has no power until it makes it into the public eye.
"To be relevant today requires understanding context, popularity and reputation,” Guillard quotes boyd in his article. I think this is particularly sage advice to those who disdain the networked culture, acknowledging its existence, but not its relevance to everyone’s daily activities today. boyd agrees that “Right now, it’s [the networked culture is] one big mess. But the key is . . . to find ways to surface content in whatever context it resides.”
Towards the end of the Guillard article, he writes about boyd’s experience while making her presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo that is worth noting, because it is scary for people like me who are frequent public speakers and presenters. As boyd made her presentation, a Twitter wall was projected behind her, which she could not see, of all the Tweets being posted live about her presentation as she was speaking. She could not help but notice this, because the body language, murmurs, snickering, and outright laughter from the audience was disruptive – an electronic form of heckling wrought large on stage.
What was being said about the speaker “behind her back” was literally projected on a screen behind her back. In a truly McLuhanesque manner, the medium had become the message, and it raises all sorts of epistemological questions of the objects becoming the subject, subject-object relationship, and the dual nature of communication.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Most Difficult Word

Hollywood would have you believe that the most difficult word is "love," as in "I love you." There are myriad romantic comedies and romantic tragedies that support that notion. Lovers and love objects of both the male and female orientation joust with commitment and win, draw or lose. But the Hollywood pundits are wrong. The most difficult word is "Yes."

I was reading recently about Contemplative Prayer Praxis, which focuses on the Welcoming Prayer, through which one acknowledges one's own feelings and physical sensations and actively lets go of them to provide space for welcoming in the spiritual presence of the divine. That welcoming in is about tuning one's life into a consent process, to, in effect, saying "Yes" to the divine presence in one's entire being. Unfortunately for the prayer practitioner, intending to say "Yes" and even actually saying "Yes" don't necessarily make it so. There are no guarantees as to when one will experience the presence of the divine despite the certainty that the divine is always present and with us.

This morning I attended the annual ordination of transitional deacons to the priesthood, and the words of the ordination service and the message of the sermon dovetailed with my recent reflections on consenting to the presence of God. The vows taken by the ordinand are promises of obedience and of practice -- to obey the bishop and any others in authority over the priest, and to pray regularly, study scripture, lead by word and example, and pastor God's people, in church and in private out of the sight of the congregation and the bishop. The ordination vows are a rule of life.

For the particular priest ordained today, hers was a fifteen plus, years long process of getting to "Yes." She had to say "Yes" repeatedly, from the earliest inkling of a call to the priesthood, through the daily challenges of marriage and motherhood, the interruptions of careers and household moves, to changes in the ordination process that brought her back to square one on more than one occasion throughout those fifteen plus years. It must have felt like a test to her, to be within reach of the goal of ordination and yet having to get to "Yes" again and again. The truism that each one's walk is individual and unique holds true in the ordination process as it does in other arenas of our lives.

As a layperson who hasn't been called to ordination, I am amazed that so many people persevere and actually make it through the process. It is especially amazing when one weighs the cost-benefit ratios associated with education and potential earnings as a clergyperson, not that those are the only factors in answering a call to ordination.

I wonder what it is that we are expecting the ordinands to prove and to whom. Surely God knows the hearts and minds of those the Spirit has imbued with priestly gifts and inspired with a call to ordination. So, it can't be God to whom proof must be presented. Rather than go through the roll call of the discernment committees and different levels of churchpersons to whom the candidate must answer, let me just stipulate that the number is larger than a few and smaller than an army.

No doubt you have asked and been asked, "No, really, do you mean it," when you have answered "Yes, I can," or "Yes, I will," on numerous occasions for commitments as mundane as consenting to drive someone to the airport an hour away or agreeing to take someone else's work shift on a holiday weekend. There is something about "Yes" that gives us pause. We can't quite believe the intent behind the word, the commitment to see the task or promise through, whether it's someone else's promise or our own commitment.

When the question is a really big commitment, like "Will you marry me" or "Should we buy this house," the ways in which we communicate "No, really, do you mean it" get quite creative. There is a part of us that doesn't want to ruin the moment, to rain on the parade and create doubt in the other person who has just said "Yes" to such a life-changing query. And yet, deep down inside - now, be honest - there's a niggling doubt that wonders "Does he really want to marry me" or "What if we don't like our neighbors" that remains hidden and unspoken.

The preacher this morning began his sermon with an autobiographical bit about scouting at the beginning of WWII and the preparation of our hearts as a place of homecoming for ourselves and for the indwelling of the divine spirit. The daily practice of living with hearts wide open prepares a place for "Yes" to be nurtured and to grow. Our hearts become the home field to which our doubts return - "No, really, do you mean it" - to rest and root and get owned and loved into a stronger "Yes, I can," "Yes, I will," and finally, at long last, "Yes, I'm sure."

Ultimately, our hearts are the practice field, to which we go to learn how to throw the ball, "Will you," catch the ball, "Yes, I can," and watch the game, "I'm so afraid," "Can he do it," "Will I want to." The heart is a muscle, always pumping and flexing, always working, never stopping, or we die. Our figurative hearts, the seat of our souls, must also be exercised, worked, never stopping, or we can't get to "Yes, I will." Because "Yes" is the hardest word.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Soloist

Last night I finally watched the movie, The Soloist, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx on cable. From the previews, I got the idea that the movie would be an uplifting view of how a former Julliard string musician is found and redeemed from his life of homelessness. Not so. (Spoiler alert!)

It turns out that The Soloist is perhaps one of the most truthful films on mental illness made in Hollywood.  It's based on the book, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, written by Downey's character, Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times.  Lopez met Foxx's character, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, in 2005, and wrote about him in his Times column, which led to the book.

The film does not gloss over the fact that Foxx's homeless musician is mentally ill with schizophrenia.  Nor does it extol the Downey columnist's nobility in befriending a homeless man. Ultimately, the film delivers the message that sometimes, all that we can do, all that is asked, is that we are a friend and that we show up. That's not an easy to digest or even believable message for those of us who have do-gooder genes in our DNA. We have been inculturated to imagine that we are somehow capable of saving someone else if we just do enough to lead them back to the right way of living and being.

But mental illness is intractable, especially for those who refuse counseling and drugs. At six decades of living and counting, there have been a number of mentally ill people in my life, including very close family members. There were several who suffered from severe, clinical depression, which I didn't recognize until years later, in retrospect, and long after the emotional damage had ruined our relationships. One young daughter of a close friend killed herself at age 27. Others killed themselves more gradually through neglect and self-destructive behavior, which none of us knew how to interrupt, and about which some of us made value judgments, condemning the person for her or his mental illness.

Back in the '50s and '60s, we didn't address mental illness in ordinary discourse or polite company. The subject wasn't polite or genteel. The mentally ill were warehoused in state run and funded "hospitals," and the mantra was "Out of sight, out of mind." The mental image was of disheveled women and men with bad hair, drooling and barefoot in white gowns, with attendants nearby ready with a straitjacket or other restraints. In the '60s, the mentally ill who were cool enough to embrace some elements of hippie life were either cool or crazy, and both were acceptable modes of behavior. The recreational drugs of the '60s somewhat leveled the playing field, since it was difficult to tell what was mental illness and what was drug induced behavior.

In my teens and early twenties, I experienced very deep depression, feeling so bleak that I was suicidal. Later, as more research was done, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) was recognized as something that can cause the blackness that I experienced. Since my early twenties, I've lived in much friendlier places for those afflicted with SAD: California, Hawaii, Texas and Colorado, where the sun shines daily in great abundance. In the wintertime, I have a full spectrum light box sitting next to my computer that I turn on for long periods on dark mornings to dispel the darkness in my spirit.

If only it were so easy for those afflicted with far worst instances of mental conditions that rob them of their ability to have hope - merely to turn on a light box and feel better an hour or two later. It's up to the rest of us who have been blessed with many good days to show up and befriend those who don't have many good days. That might be as good as it gets for some who suffer from mental illness. It won't always be fun or rewarding for us, but it will be meaningful for everyone involved.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Issues Around Sharing Photos on Facebook

My 24-year old daughter, Cece, spent a lot of time over the Christmas and New Year's holiday period taking photographs of old photographs from her Grandmother's albums and posting them to her Facebook account. As Cece reports, the response has been largely positive, with many family members remarking on fond memories of vacation and birthday gatherings and complimenting her on her initiative and energy in doing this tedious and time-consuming task.

So, it was somewhat of a surprise and perhaps even a shock to Cece to learn that I was not necessarily in the camp of those family members regarding photos that had me tagged in them. (Tagging in Facebook means that my name is associated with my image in a photo.) I was aware of the photos going up on Facebook, because I get Notifications when I am tagged, but I had not taken the time to look at each photo as it was being posted.

My initial impression when I first looked through all the photos posted by Cece was generally positive, because I was looking at them through her Facebook photo albums. Granted, some of the photographs of photographs are grainy, blurred or show the reflection of the camera's flash, but the quality of the photographs and whether or not the photographs were flattering to me were not what gave me pause. The fact is that I really did look like that when the photograph was taken, and I'm not into editing history or glossing over my physical appearance.

I did not realize, however, until I looked at my own Photos tab on Facebook that all photos with me tagged in them, posted by any of my Facebook friends, show up in "Photos of Lelanda." When I scrolled through "Photos of Lelanda," I recognized that I did not want all of those photos on my Facebook pages. Unlike the random one or two photos that friends and colleagues post from activities we've shared together, the photos posted by Cece were a sizable collection spanning my entire life, from my toddler years through my childhood and teens till the current day.

I have very carefully and deliberately culled, selected and edited the photos that I have posted in my Facebook albums. Each of my albums tells a story of a particular event or grouping of photographs such as "Our Family," "Herb and Lee Through the Years," and "Devons." I approach the assembling and posting of each album in the same way that I approach crafting a blog post or writing a poem: it is a creative process that tells a story with a particular point of view and purpose in mind. It matters to me as the creator and storyteller which photograph is chosen, how it is cropped, and its placement in the sequence of photos just as much as it matters to me which words are chosen, the punctuation and line spacing when I write a poem.

I have no objections to the photographs with me in them being in Cece's Facebook albums. I have no interest in censoring them, although I did ask that a photograph of me nursing her as a newborn be removed, because it felt too intimate to be shared so publicly - so, call me old-fashioned. Cece's Facebook albums tell her story. I just want to be the one who tells my story on my Facebook pages. That seems like a reasonable parsing of rights to me. Our compromise is that Cece told me that I could untag myself in photos on Facebook, and she retagged them with "Mom" instead of "Lelanda Lee" so that they only show up in her Facebook albums.

I've had occasion to discuss this with a few people, because I was curious to know whether I was behaving like a dinosaur in today's online consciousness or if my concerns have validity. I pointed out that I am willing to own all that I have done in my life, including the things that I'm not proud of, that I don't believe in rewriting history, even our personal histories. My 40-year old son said, "It's one thing to own your stuff. It's another thing to be outed." I think that sums it up very aptly. I'd be curious to know what you think.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Grace All Around Us

Yesterday, as Herb and I were having a quick last minute breakfast at Denver International Airport, he said the sweetest thing to me. It filled me with love for him and hope for our future. I was reflecting on how much we've been, from my perspective, arguing, and Herb said, "That's not arguing. We're just crabbing at each other. That's something couples do all the time." I joked that it must be our senior citizen status that causes us to be so much more crabby these days. Patience is not a virtue that grows with age in all older people. Some of us lose patience as our knees don't cooperate and sleep escapes us.

What a gracious gift - to have one's argumentative behavior viewed as just "crabbing," the sort of thing that happens in relationships, like saying "Good morning," or "Would you like a cup of tea?" in everyday life. It felt like a blanket forgiveness for the intransigence and selfishness that I'm feeling when I'm "crabbing." It was my husband telling me that I'm okay and he still loves me.

Today at church, Fr. Max Bailey preached an inspiring sermon on the importance of seeking connection with the mysteries of life and creation. He challenged each of us to wonder and to become enveloped by the mysteries that aren't quantifiable by science and math or definable by words, but just might be hinted at by poets, artists and musicians. I am reminded not only to stop and smell the roses when I pass by roses, but to mark out time on my calendar to seek out rose gardens intentionally amidst all the meetings and confabs that clog not only my calendar but perhaps also my heart.

Between Christmas and New Year's Day I attended a gathering to brainstorm how to support two Hispanic lay pastoral ministers from Chile, who are transitioning from positions lost to changes in clergy staff at a local mission. Over lunch in the midst of running errands, Ximena told me about their call to do ministry among the Latinos in Denver. She is passionate about how much she and Arturo feel called to this work, because, as she pointed out, otherwise, why would anyone choose to leave their children and grandchildren, their familial home, their friends and livelihood in Chile, in order to live at the margins in downtown Denver. Ximena said that they can help people who have even less than they have, who have fewer skills and fewer opportunities than she and Arturo. Their faithfulness humbles and inspires me. So, Herb and I have become co-sponsors of their ministry.

When I returned from church this morning, my mother took me aside for a chat. I have to admit that my initial reaction to Mom's wanting to chat is often "Oh, oh, what now." Mom surprised me with an offer to move into an apartment to give Herb and me more privacy upon his retirement when he will presumably spend more time at home in Colorado. What a generous offer from Mom!

Of course, I told Mom it would not be necessary, because our house has been home to all of us since 2000, and at one time, also housed Cece before she left for college 6-1/2 years ago. There is more than enough physical and psychic space for all of us to live here together for many more years. We have been truly blessed to have Mom with us, because she is a housemate who does an awesome amount of work and showers an abundance of loving attention on Herb and me, as well as our children and grandchildren.

Too often I have my eyes tuned to the computer screen and my attention turned inward to planning what I want to do and say, and I miss the cottontail that scampers across the front yard or the owl hooting in the very early morning in the neighbor's cottonwood tree. I often miss the piece of fruit just at its ripest and the last sigh of the rose before its petals drift downward. Dwelling in the mystery requires a stillness that one must do more than aspire to. One must truly stop in order to be still. I'm working on it, no doubt, a contradiction in terms. "Working on it" must become a full stop - grace in us.

Friday, January 1, 2010

How We Imagine Ourselves

Happy New Year, Everyone! May you each have enough to make 2010 a good and satisfying year for you and your loved ones.

For the Lee/Berman family, 2010 promises many changes, mostly big ones. Herb plans to retire from his job at the end of January, after he turns 71 on January 13th, and Cece and Jamie plan to marry on July 4th in Las Vegas (although the legal ceremony will take place prior to then, back home in Massachusetts), just shy of their fourth anniversary together as a couple.

Big changes mean big changes in how we imagine ourselves, in how we define who we are and what we're all about. It's a concept I've been wrapping my mind around for a while now, without any specific success. How we imagine ourselves is not something that one decides and then implements. It doesn't work that way. How we imagine ourselves is more incremental, something that accretes on us, instance by instance, moment by moment, iota by iota.  

I suspect that you, like me, tend to think of yourself as a discrete individual, separate from your partner, independent in thought and in life choices. Sure, you journey together, making decisions together about where you live, how you spend your time and resources, how you interact with family and children, and the like. But, mostly, you think of yourself as an individual, with your own dreams, hopes and fears. That your dreams and hopes intersect lends strength to your relationship, but it is the power of your individual dreams and hopes that propel you forward. 

However, what I'm finding is that as Herb and I move towards this big transition of his from working full-time in a career to retirement, it's difficult to separate my dreams, hopes and fears from his and ours together. They all sort of mush together, and I'm unable to think clearly enough to parse all the streams in order to make clean decisions. When the context of my life is unclear to me, it's hard to feel propelled forward.

Part of this latter segment of our journey will encompass a redefinition of household roles and how responsibilities are shared, or at least, how decision-making around important household matters are shared. During almost thirty years of marriage, we've figured out that I'm more reliable at keeping track of the checkbook and paying the bills, and we have more enjoyable family gatherings and vacations if I plan them, than Herb. Because Herb's work has consumed his attention and time, he has also deferred many matters to me over which, perhaps, he will want to resume control, in his retirement. It will undoubtedly be challenging to renegotiate things we haven't talked about for years and on which we've staked our claims and territory.

I suspect the biggest transition for me will be from living largely on my own, separate from Herb on a daily basis for almost twelve years, to living with him. Thankfully, that transition will be slow, since Herb intends to live in Washington for a while until he figures out where he prefers to live. I'm going to have to consider his presence and desires on daily activities and to consult him on everyday priorities, tasks and schedules. For one as entrenched as I am, it will not be easy. 

I already feel myself chafing at the constraints caused by having to slow down to explain what I'm thinking, planning and doing. The fact that I've always been a solo performer, by preference, whether in a job or in sports, has never been more evident than now. Frustration and resentment are constant emotions that I'm ashamed to name and own. Here is a truism: One is flexible and adaptable only when not facing the necessity to accommodate another.