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.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Top Ten Reasons I Like Facebook

  1. I stay connected to friends near and far through their status updates, posts, comments and “likes.” It’s almost like a quick conversation as we bump into each other in the neighborhood.
  2. I get to know what my friends are thinking and doing through their posts, comments and “likes.” It’s an online equivalent to the holiday letter’s updates.
  3. Photo albums allow me to see milestone events in my friends’ lives and to catch up on their families and our mutual friends.
  4. I meet new friends online whom I otherwise wouldn’t meet, typically through mutual friends and occasionally through mutual causes.
  5. I frequently engage in real conversations about specific topics through comment threads. Sometimes it’s current events, and other times, it’s philosophical dialogues.
  6. I get turned on to things I wouldn’t otherwise know out about, like articles, causes, books, music and videos. It’s educational, informative and always stimulating.
  7. Causes I care about get promoted on Facebook, and I can sign petitions.
  8. I can express my love, care and concern for friends in their daily lives and in times of trouble and grief. We often exchange prayer requests and commiserate or celebrate as an online community.
  9. I can give compliments and express thanks often, and that makes me and my friends feel good.
  10. I get to say Happy Birthday to my friends. Sometimes I even get to say Happy Anniversary or Congratulations on new jobs, the birth of a baby and graduations.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Personal Habit of Silence

I am one of those people who benefits from practicing a personal habit of silence.
Unlike my husband and daughter who enjoy music in the background while they work at their laptops, I enjoy silence. I find myself driving in silence most of the time with the radio off. The external noise like house and road sounds seem to act like accelerometers to my head noise, and I seek refuge in silence.
I’ve been meditating on keeping my figurative mouth shut, as in not getting too engaged in expressing my opinions on what’s happening in the world. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, because I do hold strong positions on all sorts of things. However, as I routinely read blogs, columnists and commentators, I tire of the volleying back and forth between conservative and liberal views without much serious openness to the other’s view. The volleys frequently feel like assaults to me.
“What difference does expressing my opinion make,” I ask myself. Pollsters, political advisors and activists would argue that making one’s opinions heard is paramount. Speaking out is competitive. Primacy in having one’s voice heard is about dominance and privilege.
I wonder if I am causing any harm when I state my opinions. I am more interested in discussing the questions and raising the issues than in arguing or defending my positions. The posture I want to practice is one of sitting quietly with the questions and issues and contemplating the flow around them. Silence can be golden.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I regret the dimness of my memories of my youngest brother, Chris, who died at age 42 sixteen years ago. Occasionally, our generation has been asked to tell stories about Chris to his son, who was five at his death. I always feel inadequate and guilty, because I don’t have many memories from which to draw.
I am thankful our brother, Jon, does recall stories of not only Chris but also our dad, who’s been gone 22 years.
I was the eldest sibling, who left the family roost as quickly as possible, in the midst of the hippie era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. I didn’t purposely set out to not-remember, but I did embrace a particular feminist lens through which I interpreted my world. In retrospect, I suspect that focused lens caused me to screen out and delete a lot of memories from long-term memory. I know that lens motivated me in my twenties to disdain and disengage from some family relationships and courtesies like acknowledging birthdays.
I didn’t re-engage again until my mid-thirties, when I married Herb and birthed Cece. My healthy relationship with Herb erased many resistances I harbored to being connected to family merely because of bloodlines. When Cece came along, she was a positive reason to reestablish those connections with gusto. I wanted her to have what I had lost and found again. I came to realize that political beliefs were insufficient reason to diss the relationships that feed you for a lifetime.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Being Ordinary

A teenage Facebook friend recently wrote that she doesn’t think there’s anything worse than being ordinary. My immediate impulse was to post a comment, but I exercised restraint – restraint born out of the same maturity from which these thoughts derive. She will live and learn. My task is to be her friend, not her teacher.
When I was in my teens through twenties, I also thought that being ordinary was pretty terrible. I wanted to be special in important ways – like being smart, exhibiting leadership and multitasking in high profile venues. I cared about being noticed and better yet, admired.
I imagined being a standout in appearance, achievements and attitude. I wanted my clothes to demonstrate my good taste, my dinner parties to signify the hostess with the mostest, and my sales numbers to crush the competition. Being ordinary meant just getting by and fading into the crowd. I wanted to be special and all the baggage that entails.
After four decades of adulthood, I have a different appreciation for the ordinary and a desire to be present to each precious moment of life without expectation. Today, I want to notice the lives of the people around me. They count in ways uncomprehended in my youth. I welcome their stories, the pain as well as the joy. I want to be the hands that clean up messes and serve the evening meal. I want to inhabit each day and each emotion, decision and action. Life is ordinary. Ordinary is life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Walking Away

Why is walking away so hard?
My brother sent a link to an interview with Michael Cooper, the ex-husband of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book on which the movie starring Julia Roberts is based: Eat, Pray, Love.
Michael Cooper comes across as a classy guy, uninterested in casting stones at his ex-wife who has made her fortune from dissing him and the breakup of their marriage.
I’ve been divorced, and I don’t have any interest in casting aspersions at my ex either. Our marriage is what it was. There was plenty of blame to share. We’re both in better places today, and our son is our first priority.
Walking away and having the last word are related. Something in the human psyche desperately wants to have the last word, to say we were right and they were wrong, sort of like “sticking out your tongue” and yelling “nyah, nyah, nyah.”
I think it’s about the need to feel justified. We don’t feel loved or worthy, and yelling the loudest makes us feel like the hole inside is being filled. We need to not feel empty.
One of the truths I’ve been contemplating is that God is Love. It is God’s Love that is expressed when we humans say, “I love you.” My love has nothing to do with me, because I have a hole inside that only God who is Love can fill. There is only God’s Love, and we are invited to reflect that Love to the world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Procrastination, Resistance and Iconoclasm

Procrastination is similar to, but not the same as, being slow intentionally. When I’m deliberately slow, I’m usually trying to figure things out that aren’t easily or superficially apparent. Money, time and hard work don’t deter me. I spend my own money, stay up all night and work even when it hurts physically if something warrants the effort.
When I procrastinate, it often indicates that I don’t want to do the task before me. Procrastination is typically over something that is logical to everyone but me. I find it hard to do something when I don’t see the need. It must be a Lee family attribute, because I see it in other family members.
Another name for this phenomenon is resistance. I instinctively resist going along to get along. Being neutral is overrated. Change happens only when things are approached differently. The weight of the status quo is disproportionate to its appropriateness.
Iconoclasm is an attribute inculcated in my brothers and me by our late father. He always encouraged us to question authority and loved playing Devil’s Advocate. Remaining neutral about anything wasn’t allowed, including which flavor ice cream to buy. Dad helped us become thinkers. Choices have consequences, and we are accountable for our choices and actions.
I have learned to clothe myself in social courtesies that facilitate relationships. Those lessons were achieved through intentional observation of others. I’ll break through my procrastination by thinking, apologizing profusely along the way. Chances are, I won’t be standing on the sidelines.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Incline Our Hearts, O God!

"Peace does not come through prayers; we humans have to create peace," is currently being Tweeted widely, attributed to the Dalai Lama. That quotable statement makes me ponder prayer in general, how we pray and what we pray for. 
The words of prayer frequently roll off our tongues. If we could make windows into men's souls, would we see those words also rolling off our souls?
We pray to praise and thank God for the blessings of this life. We pray to unburden ourselves to God about our deepest losses and most regrettable transgressions. We pray to ask God for more gifts and interventions.
The words often take the form of "Lord, Grant us _______," and the missing word commonly is "peace." The quote attributable to the Dalai Lama inspires me to wonder if "Incline our hearts," asking God to transform our desires to those that align with God who is Love, Peace and the Way, might not be the better prayer.
The most profound prayer I have ever heard was taught by a nun in a women’s gathering. She said, “Lord, Give me the desire to desire to _______.” “To forgive, to love my enemy, to be generous” . . . you get the idea.
St. Francis said, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." I think he got it right.
Some questions for further meditation: Does my heart inhabit my prayers? Do my prayers change my heart? Do my prayers signify a relationship with the Living God?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Socializing with Mom

Mom has lived with us since we returned to Colorado. She had been living across the street from my widowed sister-in-law and nephew. Mom had sold her restaurant business, emptied her house and shipped her life to San Diego after my youngest brother's death to be present for his five-year-old son.
As my nephew grew into his tweens, Mom called often, expressing loss of appetite, random pains and the heartache of being set adrift with nearby family who were occupied building lives. For Mom, super-charged on activity, extroverted to the extreme, life seemed to stop. 
In 2000 Mom, Cece and I bought this house while Herb was working in Scotland. Colorado’s mountains and son Corin’s newborn 25 minutes away drew us. A Jack and Jill arrangement was perfect for incorporating Mom. She discovered the senior center where she socializes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, sewing, knitting and playing shuffleboard. Mom single-handedly knits over a hundred caps and scarves each year for donations.
Living with Mom changed our lives. For teenaged Cece, it was the gift of a grandmother’s endless coddling. For me, wife, mother and daughter, I am challenged to defend new boundaries regularly. Mom took over the kitchen (a lament for another time) and grandmothering my grandsons. She can’t help herself, and my frontline has continuously eroded.
My girlfriend suggested dinner and a movie this weekend and invited Mom, too. I now define a new boundary: I can’t socialize with my friends with my mother. Enough is enough.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Don't Eat the Bait

There is a Tibetan term called shenpa, which I came across when reading the teachings of Ani Pema Chodrรถn. I have since reflected upon the term and Ani Pema's teachings pretty constantly. You'll have to read Ani Pema's teachings to learn how she teaches on shenpa. Here is my understanding.

In a sentence, for me, the essence of shenpa is "If you don't want to get hooked, don't eat the bait." Shenpa is the root of all of my misunderstandings in relationships with anyone, whether it's a boss, colleague, parent, lover, child or friend. Shenpa is the root of my addictions, whether it's chocolate, sugar and overeating, or feelings of anger, guilt and resentment.

The things that hook me are many. They can cause me to feel defensive and to want to prove someone else wrong. I have to ask myself, "Why do I feel the need to be right?" They can cause me to feel resentful and to want to disengage or to do something spiteful. I have to ask myself, "Where does this desire to do violence to myself and to others come from?"

Ultimately, I think it's about equating feeling loved with feeling justified. It's about not feeling worthy of love, as if love is something that is earned rather than a gift from the Ultimate Source. It is the hole in the human soul that we spend our lifetimes trying to fill up with all manner of stuff. Not eating the bait is about just being.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Challenge of Social Media and Young People

In the last day or two there have been some Facebook posts around the issue of young people, tweens and teens, and discretion in what they post and what they're invited to read in the FB accounts of their adult friends.

A minister writes about talking with the parents of his youth group members of some of the behaviors he has read about on FB. There are reports of law enforcement using FB posts to track down wanted people. Someone mused about FB posts supporting or discrediting alibis in court.

All of this troubles me greatly, but perhaps not for the reasons you might suppose.

It's been almost fifty years since I was a tween, but I still remember with exquisite squeamishness how much I longed to experiment and how scared I was of getting caught saying or doing something stupid, hurtful to self or others, embarrassing or even a "little bit" illegal. Looking back on my tween and teen years, I am so very grateful for the tolerance and good judgment of the adults around me - parents and teachers - who kindly and wisely averted their judgment when I tried on some bad behavior.

I grew up in the inner city of Detroit, and that bad behavior included everything from using multiple variations of the "f-" word to calling a teacher a name out loud in class to threatening to beat up another girl to trying pot and alcohol to staying out late in unsavory neighborhoods. I was a good kid who was experimenting, and the adults in my life knew me for who I was and not for what my experimental behavior pointed to.

I think we've reached a sort of absolutist mentality which is not helpful to how we develop as moral beings. An absolutist mentality makes judgments before it engages relationships. It cares more about "right and wrong" than about Johnny and Mary and what's going on with them. It sends a message of self-righteousness when young people can see perfectly well for themselves our foibles and flaws. I'm not talking about the absolute right and wrong of behaviors like murder and assault. Rather, I am talking about the space for tweens and teens to learn from bad behavior - to make mistakes, confront their mistakes in a loving environment and grow beyond those mistakes with forgiveness and guidance.

I am a firm believer in the philosophy that we raise our kids to grow away from us, and part of the preparation for growing away from us is giving them the space to figure things out by trying things out with the safety net of us adults being in the surrounding background. I often think about animal parents and the grief that they must feel, if one can anthropomorphize animals in general, when they push the little bird out of the nest or send a feline cub to hunt by itself for the first time. Things don't always turn out well, but to do less than allow our young ones to experiment and make mistakes means that we cripple them rather than prepare them for what comes later in life on their own.

Parenting, teaching and leading young people are all about building and nurturing relationships. Those relationships must be built on love, respect and understanding. Most of the time, we figure out how to do the love part of being the adult in relationship with young people. It's the respect and understanding parts where we frequently miss the mark. Respect of the young people in our lives also includes keeping confidences (when safety is not an imminent concern) and valuing our relationships with them at least as much as we do our relationships with their parents and guardians.

Understanding where another person is coming from is difficult no matter the relationship. Think about your relationships with your spouse, co-workers and neighbors. When there are disparities of generational age (adult parent and tween or teen child) and power based on experience and control of resources (you've got the years of living, the money and the car keys), the difficulties in achieving understanding are magnified. And suffice to say, respecting that which we do not understand, and therefore, have difficulty valuing, is extremely difficult.

I think that ultimately, having and nurturing relationships with young people, where you as the adult take the time to listen, try to understand what you're hearing and withhold judgment even when you're convinced you're right, might just make the difference in a young person's life.

I just read this morning of a 13-year old who committed suicide. Suicide among tweens and teens is not unusual these days. I can't help but wonder if having an adult who took the time to just listen, not talk, not judge, not be the wise one, but who just listened, would have made any difference in the lives of young suicide victims. Speaking as one who remembers feeling despair so dark at age 15 that suicide was an option right alongside of graduating and going to college, it was a 25-year old adult who took the time to sit in a car in the dark talking with me for hours at a time who made the difference in my life. I will always be grateful for her friendship to a teenager.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The funeral we've always dreamed of

I woke before 4:00 AM this morning, refreshed, full of ideas and ready to work. Yesterday's Gospel, Luke 12:13-21, really resonated throughout my being: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God." 
This parable points out to individuals the foolishness of storing up earthly treasures, because soon we become owned by what we have lavished time and energy on accumulating. The preacher’s image yesterday was of all the lovely things we’ve accumulated sitting on the lawn and driveway as our children sell our precious belongings after we’ve died.
It really hit home for me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about my house and all the stuff in it as I’ve embarked on a long-term project of painting the interior, repairing cracks and old molding, and trying to sort and part with some of the accumulated stuff. The project is both cathartic and overwhelming simultaneously.
It has become clear that we have way too much stuff and that our children won’t value it like we have. The kids won’t have the same memories associated with the selection and purchase of the art or tchotchkes from our travels. It would really benefit us, the kids and some charitable organizations for us to sort through our stuff and get rid of it now.
There simply is too much stuff even to enjoy all of it realistically. I, more than Herb, have not heeded his admonition “not to become our own museum.”  My new mantra of “I don’t have to own it to admire it,” came too late. It’s only been in the last few years of traveling that I have assiduously avoided buying tchotchkes, finally recognizing that they don’t enhance my enjoyment or my memories of the travel. Digital storage of photographs and records has shifted the need for stifling amounts of paper storage.
I also question my gift-giving practices now. Do my newly married friends or children celebrating birthdays really need more stuff? Instead of presents this year, we gathered the grandsons, their parents and other family for a dinner theatre experience to see Peter Pan. We laughed, booed and hissed at pirates, and thrilled together at a terrific performance as Wendy and the boys flew overhead. We made memories together.
But my thinking did not stop at the personal level. I also thought about the message this parable has for the institutional church that is today struggling with finding the resources to maintain our brick and mortar and the way we’ve always done church. If the younger generations don’t value the treasures we’ve accumulated such as the fair linens, brass candlesticks and needlepoint kneelers, perhaps it’s time to look at what is important to young people and how they connect to God and figure out how to support that.
Being a faithful member of the church has got to be about more than just supporting an infrastrucure that will allow us, the older generation, to have the funeral we’ve always dreamed of!