Saturday, July 31, 2010

As Your Servant Leader

I've finally landed on Yes, I'm going to stand for reelection for both Standing Committee in the Diocese of Colorado and for General Convention-2012 Deputy. The many conversations I've had with friends and advisors have been helpful in my discernment of whether or not to run. I am thankful for the time colleagues and wise persons have given to my thoughts and concerns. I have learned and thought more deeply, because you have talked to me and shared your outlooks.

I have decided to ask for the chance to continue to work on some things I've begun but have not finished. I've been led to see that some in our diocese and the wider church view my participation in the leadership ranks as a sign of connectedness and hope, and I want to continue to lift that up and honor it. But I also stand for reelection with some expectations which I will enunciate in my nomination forms and here.

If you're going to elect me to represent you and carry on the work of this diocese and church on your behalf, it is my expectation that you will pray for me regularly. Pray that I will have the strength to do the work in front of me diligently, finding the time and peaceful mind to do the reading, have the conversations and ask the questions that will lay out the issues, possible courses of action and potential ramifications clearly. Pray that I will view the needs of my family and community, when they call upon my attention and my time, as ministry opportunities and not as distractions. Pray that I will be respectful and kind to my body and observe sabbath with regularity and intention. Pray that I will seek out the perspectives and opinions of those who have a point of view different than mine and listen with open mind and heart. Pray that I will find joy in serving you, the church and the One who created and loves us.

I also expect those in this diocese and the wider church who are supporting my leadership to do a few things beyond praying for me. Please send me information and resources to read and reflect upon that can inform our work as church leaders. Challenge my thinking and confront what I say and do. As a leader, I should be able to answer you in plain English without defensiveness. As an individual, I need your help to prepare continually to do this work to which I am called.

The Rev. Heather Melton, the Clergy Representative from the Front Range Region, is my partner on the Standing Committee. We have already sent a letter to those in the Holy Orders process from our region to tell them that we want to support and connect them to the rest of the region through reports and prayer. We will be sending out a letter shortly to all 27 of the Front Range churches asking for opportunities to meet with them to talk about the region and the diocese in any venue or format that works for them, such as at Sunday morning forums, Vestry or annual parish meetings, and other congregational gatherings. There is a lot going on in our diocese, and the leadership cannot make its decisions in a vacuum.

I look forward to our partnership in our diocese and the wider church. E-mail me at I have a Facebook account in my name, Lelanda Lee, and you can Tweet me @LelandaLee.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


(In memory of those yet to come)

When first you lift the pendulum arm
it swings wide and free
from East to West
the gift of time to adventure
explorations yielding treasure
and delight

The rhythm changes fractionally
stubble turning into beard
preferences becoming habits
comfort and familiarity
lure our restless hearts
nesting a vocation for bipeds
and avians alike
a lifetime marked by doorways
through which you’ve journeyed
n’er by the rooms you’ve occupied

When memory stumbles
words bind us
across the generations
photographs provide evidence
pixels amassed from halcyon days
vignettes infused with fables
remnants of a lifetime’s hopes
our biographies plumbed and tidied

When winter chases autumn
into the declining light
the pendulum swings tighter
its speed positing
an elder’s sense of time
finally acknowledging
our inability to transfer ownership
of dreams to those we leave behind

Each cadre writes anew
fresh thoughts upon blank pages
the prayers of ancients flowing
eternally surrounding
their kindred through the ages
their blessings everlasting
though hidden from our sight

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer at Home

I've been sort of following a back-and-forth conversation over at the HoBD list for the past week or so. It's the one that emerges every so often about "Hate the sin, love the sinner," where that sentiment originated (not in the Bible), and the incalcitrance of those who cling to their positive conviction that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and God has personally called them to the task of proactively telling LGBT folks that they are Sinners with a capital "S."

From my point of view, the entire exchange falls into the category of "If you try to teach a pig to sing, you'll just frustrate the pig and get yourself stuck in the muck along with the pig." I am deeply grateful for my sisters and brothers who continue to argue the logic and love of rational thought and Jesus' Gospel, but I'm so over those conversations with people who have made up their minds while sanctimoniously hiding behind proof texting the Bible erroneously.

Meanwhile, I'm still reading my young motorcyclist friend's blog about his cross-country journey, which is about two-thirds completed. He's turned around and is headed back to the West Coast. The thing that strikes me over and over is how much gratitude he expresses for simple things like a good breakfast, a chance to dry off after being caught in a rain storm or to cool off after 100-degree days on the bike and the sharing of good stories and experiences at a 12-step meeting in a new place. His gratitude is simple and direct, unembellished and sincere - just "Thanks for the food. Thanks for the meeting. Thanks for the hospitality." I like that a lot. I like the simplicity.

I'm mostly at home in Colorado this July and August, that is, after the hoopla of the girls' Las Vegas wedding celebration the first week of July, this past weekend's trip to Memphis for an Executive Council task group meeting and next weekend's overnight trip to Chicago for an ELCA meeting. It takes me a while to get back into the flow of being at home.

As I have gotten older, it has taken a longer and longer time for me to change mentalities - from being "on the go" to being "at home" - and to get back into the "normal" flow of reading the mail, paying the bills and doing the chores. I am somewhat overwhelmed by the myriad things to deal with around the house, like the stovetop that is breaking down, one feature at a time, and the endless little leaks and issues with all the plumbing in the house and sprinkler system.

I suspect that feelings like anxiety, disappointment and resentment have a lot to do with the slowing down that comes with aging and too much experience. Multiple recent stories of friends and their loved ones' battles with recurring cancer and other ailments add to my sense of the fragility of life and my desire to be present to my friends. Those feelings just seem to be the unbidden accompaniment to many of life's experiences, no matter how hard we try to remain centered in a life ethos that is focused on love and the Golden Rule.

I'm in a period of discernment about whether or not to continue some of the activities of the past three years, because a couple of elections are at hand - standing for reelection to Colorado's Standing Committee and for General Convention deputy. Mostly, I think that I will probably stand for reelection, simply because the work that I embarked on three years ago is not yet done. But I also ponder my motivation to do so. I worry that I am being attracted by ego needs such as the need to feel important. I worry that whatever power is associated with such roles is an elixir that entices my ego. I worry that I am buying into my own PR, believing that "I" have anything to do with what work has been accomplished.

These are the things that occupy my summertime in Colorado this year.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Transparency and Leadership

What does it mean to be "transparent"? It's a concept that is bandied about a great deal when talking about organizations and leadership. Transparency in human interactions implies openness in communications and a willingness to let people see what is going on in leadership circles. Some leaders absolutely hate the word and its implications for how they go about their business. Those leaders tend to view transparency as invasive and burdensome to their process.

I believe that transparency and openness are good. From my perspective a leadership cadre can be both transparent and yet maintain confidentiality in specific instances, such as in personnel discussions and in strategies for product launches or lawsuits.

My proclivity for transparency as a leader arises out of a philosophy that shared knowledge empowers the community and that the converse is also true. Withholding access to information disrespects and disempowers the community, engendering anxiety that can easily morph into suspicion, fear and distrust. An administration doing excellent work can be brought low by mismanagement of its information dissemination.

Community relations is very much about perceptions and the attitudes displayed by community leaders and their communications cadre. A frequent perception is that leaders who do not practice transparency are paternalistic in how they choose when and how much information the community needs and "can handle." A comprehensive communications process would include sufficient educational pieces and resource links to set the stage for the information being shared.

People are curious about how the leadership circle operates. We want to understand what our leaders see and experience and the processes they utilize to arrive at their decisions. Just as young children ask "Why?" repeatedly, adults also ask the "Why?" question in their heads even when they don't ask out loud. It's the same curiosity that is shared by the many people who make the Discovery Channel documentaries and endless hours of C-SPAN footage staples of television. People want to know not only "Why?" but also "How?". People want to "see" for themselves, because seeing is believing.

Social media such as blogs and tweets are vehicles that every leader has the opportunity to use to share information quickly and widely. News stories "go viral" these days, mushrooming into broad circulation long before the type is set and the trucks have rolled out to deliver the newsprint. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a significant percentage of votes are motivated by the perceived transparency of the candidates, especially in elections within nonprofit organizations.

So, dear reader, the challenge for all of us is, how do we encourage our leaders to be more transparent? In some cases the answer is legislation; we mandate that meetings are open and reports are made within deadlines. However, in other cases, the challenge lies beyond the effects of legislation. Certainly, care in nominating and electing the right candidates matters. Engagement in the political process, whether as a citizen or a member of a nonprofit organization, is required.

My observation is that the biggest challenge is, how do we encourage entrenched leaders, already elected and in place, to be more transparent when it's not their practice to be, because of their personality or philosophy? How do we, as constituents, live into our responsibilities such that we encourage and challenge our leaders to be more transparent without incurring the opposite responses of increased secrecy and disenfranchisement? If you have any answers, I'd really like to hear them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meltdowns and Mutual Accountability

Part of the commitment to being accessible and transparent (a misunderstood and much abused word in such contexts as this) as a leader involves a degree of self-awareness and self-control that no leader short of Jesus Christ, who is God, is capable of carrying off without periodic meltdowns. I had a meltdown yesterday at a steering committee meeting of a group that I highly value and whose members I very much admire for their intellect, involvement and service to our church community.

As meltdowns go, it wasn't all that bad in that I wasn't shouting, waving my arms, cursing or raving about the terrible state of the world. On the other hand, my criticisms were negative without being balanced, devolved into whining, and didn't proffer the hope that I usually have to share with others. Not exactly what anyone would label as leadership behavior, and for that, I did apologize and ask forgiveness and forbearance of the group today.

The reasons for my meltdown are many and the usual ones: mental fatigue, social isolation, working what feels like all the time (it isn't really all the time, but it often feels that way), too many simultaneous deadlines, being too much in my own head and getting too accustomed and comfortable with the compliments paid to me. Even for one who travels as much as I do, who meets and interacts with as many diverse people from different walks and places as I do, you could say to me, "You don't get out much, do you?" with assurance that you would have hit the nail on the head.

The work, even when it's for such vaunted purposes as the church and social justice, can become idols at whose altars we not only worship but immolate our best selves in a blindness that precludes stopping to share a meal at the dining room table instead of at the laptop, to laugh out loud at a funny video with the grandkids or to spend a morning at the local farmers market just because it's summertime.

I do recognize the need for me as a leader to roll up my sleeves to do the dishes and the laundry, to get down on my knees to scrub the corners and crevices of the bathroom floor and to spend time talking to people who not only don't share my perspective but who actually challenge my point of view and my motives. Humble actions build perspective and save us from believing our own PR.

To my colleagues' great credit, their understanding and forgiveness have been forthcoming, and I do thank them so very much. 'Tis grace, 'tis grace, 'tis grace, and it's nothing we deserve or earn, but everything that we hope and pray for.

It is the engagement of our mutual participation and mutual accountability that strengthens us as a body, as the Body. It's rather like sharing an aerie where we scoot around, making room for the one who's fussy, being careful not to scoot so much that we push one of our own out of that high nest. There's safety in the nest we share, where we comfort one another as we gather strength and renewal to venture out into the vast world. There's also mutual accountability in that we must call each other to our best selves and help one another hone our skills and our good humor to carry on when it's difficult.

More than anything else, we must especially help one another to remember the way home to the core values that ground us and send us forth anew each day. Forgetting who we are is the consequence of each day of living. Remembering is a conscious act that is fostered by those who love us. I will forever ask the question of myself from now on: how will I feed my fellows so that they remember who they are and to whom they belong? Remembering is a communal act that links us to our historical communities and to those yet to be born. In the Christian tradition, it is our Eucharistic act which we do to remember our source and our strength, our Savior and Redeemer.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Melancholy is defined as depression, a moroseness that robs one of motivation and energy, an enervation of a severe kind. And yet, for me, someone who has experienced melancholy in varying degrees over the years, it seems like melancholy ought to have a broader meaning than just depression. I much prefer its secondary meaning which refers to somber thoughtfulness, a pensiveness that takes one to places where one reflects upon loss and pain, loneliness and forgetfulness . . . and . . . and the intentional forgetting of the ones who are not lovely and not lovable.

For me, melancholy takes me to those places where I am in touch with the pain of people I must not forget, because in most instances, they've already been forgotten by the people who are supposed to love them, who are supposed to hold them in esteem and cherish them whether they've been good or lovable . . . or not. It's easy to collect lovers and good friends, to collect admirers and easy acquaintances. It requires a lot more effort and a greater will to collect the unloved and the unlovables . . . and convince them that they are loved and lovable . . . and to convince yourself that you have the capacity to love beyond the usual boundaries and circles.

It has been said that love is an act of will, and I'll buy that. But love is also an act of emotion, and it is the emotional part of loving that incorporates every part of who I am, who I want to be, and who I fail to be. It is the emotional part of loving that cuts through age and class and experience and really connects me to another, and that other to me. It is the emotional part of loving that feels like an electrical charge that sparks and jumps from me to you and you to me, and we both really feel it. It is a look, it is a gesture, it is a sound that isn't words, that might be only an exhalation of breath that says everything that needs to be said. Words fail us and become unnecessary.

Children should have parents who love them, unconditionally. Children should feel that they've been chosen, over and over again, and not doubt that they've been chosen, even when they misbehave. People should have families who are there for them, in the tough times as well as in the good times. Elders should feel included and their contributions should be valued, even when they become set in their ways and repetitious. No one should be made to feel like yesterday's castoffs. Pets should have the companionship and support of their people even when they get sick and old and the economy is bad. We must ask ourselves, I must ask myself, "What is my role, what is my part, in making love known, in healing the corner of the world that I dwell in?"

Today, I write to say let us not forget people like Jayne Peters and her unknown despair. Let us remember those who are alone and dying this night. Let us remember those who are lonely and fearful tonight. Let us remember those who are imprisoned and depairing in darkness. Let our chain of remembering be the network of human caring that redeems our shared humanity. Let us not stop here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Money and Family

The news report back in March, 2010, said that eighty-something sisters Theresa Sokaitis and Rose Bakaysa were battling it out in court over a $500,000 Powerball jackpot. Apparently, the sisters had at one time agreed, in writing, to split any lottery and gambling winnings 50-50. Then, over five years ago, the sisters argued over a smaller sum of money, and that argument escalated into years of not speaking to each other, and then this, one sister suing the other for a share of the half-million-dollar Powerball prize. See here for the judge’s ruling in May. 

Money. Fights over money. I've watched families break apart over money, including my own. My mother's brothers and brother-in-law abandoned my mother's restaurant business to start their own restaurant on the eve of my brother's wedding in Hawaii. We had purchased first class tickets for Mom and Dad to fly from Detroit to Honolulu for the wedding, but Mom never got to go, having to stay behind to salvage her business and her livelihood. My father had worked and sacrificed for years to sponsor those uncles and their families to immigrate from Hong Kong to the U.S. I think those uncles broke my father's heart. I know they destroyed any feelings of affection that my brother and I had for them to this day. 

As a commercial lender, I used to talk to my customers about money, because it was important for me to evaluate the likelihood of those customers repaying their loans as agreed. A customer’s promise to honor his or her loan agreement boiled down to a capability to repay and a commitment to live up to his or her word. My due diligence as a lender in analyzing the financial statements, sizing up the business operation and reviewing inventory and collateral was only part of the art of lending. Weighing the trustworthiness of a customer depended upon building enough of a relationship to read a person’s character. This was lending back in the days when bankers were part of their communities and knew their customers in settings other than just the lending relationship. 

Walking away from money is something I’ve done a few times in my life. Like the time I got divorced and walked away with only my clothes and personal belongings, because the most important thing was to walk away with my sanity – more important than fighting over money and ending up being defined by the money that was won or lost. Of course, it helps to have either enough money so that you don’t worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or a secure enough job so that you don’t worry about your next paycheck. Ultimately, the greatest security is a sense of self-confidence that you'll be okay, that you'll land on your feet and be able to do what it takes to get started again in a new situation. As a more mature adult, I have had those securities. As a young adult, I had the security of family on whom I could rely, and assurance of that family support freed me to make choices and try “going for it” in ways that I otherwise might not have done.

Today, I think the money situation is tough for young people, because of the recent banking and market failures in the economy and the lack of jobs with decent wages coupled with the millennial generation’s valuing free time as much as hard work, expectations of a certain standard of living and the rising cost of healthcare. I know many twenty-somethings with college degrees who haven’t been able to land jobs with good pay and benefits. Even those with graduate degrees don’t necessarily do better in the job market. Many of my peers are helping to raise grandchildren and making room for married and partnered children to move back into their homes because of financial setbacks. 

Being flexible and adaptable is the key these days to making our families work. It’s probably also helpful to scrap any carved-in-stone notions of what families are supposed to look like and how they’re supposed to work so that we are nimble when our families come calling for help, as some of them surely will. Luckily for us, our family has been acculturated to think in terms of multigenerational living together and our younger generations having the freedom and welcome to float back and forth between the homes of their aunts and uncles for limited and extended periods of time. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Raw Eggs

"Raw broken eggs... is there anything grosser? Maybe Karo syrup... shudder," tweets my daughter, Cecelia, and I am reminded of the time I sent her to elementary school with what I thought was a hardboiled egg in her lunchbox. Gasp! I hate thinking about the things I put my kids through, because I was inattentive and not fully present. 
I dare not begin a litany of all those things, or I won't be able to breathe tonight, much less attempt to sleep peacefully. I bet I'm not alone in my memories of things I did through inattentiveness and things I didn't do, but should have done, because I wasn't fully present to the people in my life at specific moments in the past. My victims were mostly my kids and my mother. They were the closest at hand and the safest, because they would still love me even as I did my dastardly deeds to them. Thank God that our children and our parents love us even when we don't deserve their love. 
I don't know about you, but I struggle with trying to be present everyday. There are so many distractions, from email and Facebook to television and paying bills, from commitments to volunteer boards and committees to time spent working on paying projects. It's not just being present that's a struggle. There's also trying to keep up with the chores in life like cooking, cleaning and laundry that tend to suffer as I surrender my time to other attentions that do not benefit myself or my family directly. 
I recognize that thinking the volunteer work that I do is more important than my family is a false value, and yet, I am part of a generation of women who have succumbed to that myth. Part of the seduction is the reward of accolades and genuinely making a difference in other people's lives. I remember a line from the theater production "Funny Girl" in which Fanny Brice's mother tells her that she now belongs to the ages. Sometimes my sense of self-importance sends that same message to me, and I erroneously believe it. 
I often think about the examples of people like Henri Nouwen and Mother Teresa who lived among the developmentally disabled and the poor, rolling up their proverbial sleeves and doing physical work. I am deeply aware of my need to live in and with my faith community at home, sharing in the everyday chores of maintaining our worship and ministry home, in order to be strengthened and renewed to go forth and do ministry away from home. It hits me every time I get a chance to land at St. Stephen's in Longmont as I did this past Sunday and worship with my parish congregation and hug and receive hugs from old and new friends. 
I suspect that part of an answer lies in the ability to rest in the Lord no matter where we are or how busy with life's activities we become. The image that arises for me is a home away from home, a home wherever I find myself, if I can just rest in the Lord wherever I am. So much easier said than done. So much easier to talk about than to find one's way towards, but a goal worth seeking.

This Family

My daughter, Cecelia, and her partner, Jamie, celebrated their wedding in Las Vegas amidst 50 friends and relatives who flew and drove from Boston, New Jersey, Colorado, Phoenix, and California. Among Cece's friends were a young woman from second grade, high school friends from Amarillo and Colorado, and law school classmates. Aunts, uncles and cousins rounded out the guests.

I've known my daughter her entire life (duh!), but I must admit that her ability to maintain long-term friendships amazes me as much as the importance of family in her life. When Herb and I visited Cece in her freshman college dorm room during parents' weekend seven years ago, we were surprised to see the wall surrounding her desk covered with computer-printed color photos of all our relatives. Until that time, I had not realized how much Cece values her familial relations.

So, you can imagine the profound gratitude and love I have for my aunts, uncles and cousins, knowing Cece's feelings for them, that they turned out en masse to support the first LGBT marriage of the first out LGBT person in the family. You've got to get that we are a traditional Chinese family, with roots going back centuries to villages in China, and that tradition forms the foundation of who we are and how we relate to one another.

You might find us American-born occasionally verbalizing disdain or disregard for Chinese tradition, but the truth is that we - at least my generation still - are shaped and bound by tradition inescapably. Cantonese is still in our blood - the language, the food, the holiday rituals, and the stories from our childhoods and from our ancestors.

It was 40-some years ago that I was the first to marry outside the Chinese ethnicity to the consternation of all the aunties and uncles. Many of them swore that their children would never marry a non-Chinese. Yet, with the passage of time, several of my cousins did marry non-Chinese, and their parents, my aunts and uncles, learned to love their children-in-law and their hapa (Asian mixed race) grandchildren without reservation.

I now realize that the negativity directed at my first marriage was more surprise at a new and unanticipated situation, a harbinger of a new era, than pure bigotry. Getting used to the idea of non-Chinese in-laws and grandchildren took some time, but to their credit, the aunties and uncles all made the journey to acceptance and love.

By the same token, it is heartening to me to see the connection that my daughter, my youngest child, has to her Chinese heritage and her Chinese relatives. My cousins and I have made tremendous efforts to maintain the family ties for our children, hosting and traveling to family gatherings on both coasts. My children are the oldest at ages 40 and 24, and my cousins' youngest children are ages 9 and 11, the same ages as my two grandchildren. Our generations are accounted for by position in the family tree and not by proximity of ages.

It is this family that has surrounded Cece for 24 years of growing up and at her wedding and that will surround and support her when I am gone and only a memory in her life. It is this family that includes my two grandsons, now only a quarter Chinese, as integral members of the clan. When Cece and Jamie have children and adopt children, as they plan to do, those children, too, will be part of this extended Chinese family, because family is who we are and what we do.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Learning from 12-Steppers

All church leaders these days are deeply immersed in thinking about how to do church better. We are keenly aware of the declining membership rolls and giving to sustain the mission and ministry of the institutional church. Some attention has been given to the emerging church movement and its potential to help stem the tide. Other leaders talk about the need to get back to basics such as focusing on scripture, liturgy and formation. Still others talk about becoming mission-shaped again and returning to why we are the church. Let me share with you another perspective.

A friend's 20-something son is currently engaged in a cross-country motorcycle journey with its only goal being to partake in an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting everyday in a new place. As I follow his daily travels through his online blog, I am struck by the fellowship and spirituality that he is experiencing as he seeks out meetings and encounters fellow seekers along the way. He meets these fellow seekers in all kinds of places, from rest stops to truck stops to small towns and campgrounds to the side of the road, and of course, at meetings.

There are several aspects of these encounters that I think speak to what's missing in much of organized religion and how we do church that we would do well to pay attention to.

First, these fellow seekers seem to know how to recognize each other and to be open to the possibility of meeting a fellow seeker along the way. It's not the similarity of the clothes they wear, the class ring or the familiar speech patterns; the recognition is not about being from the same social background. What I sense is a humility born of being brought low - in 12-Step terminology, "hitting bottom" and "knowing that I am powerless in the face of my addiction" - that inculcates an openness to "the other" along the road. It reminds me of the blessings of the Beatitudes and how the poor in spirit and the meek are the ones who know true blessings. They know each other by their need for ongoing self-examination, witnessing to one another and continuing in the journey of recovery, one step at a time.

Second, these fellow seekers share their stories, both informally as they meet on the road and in the context of meetings as they lift up their shared values - their "creed" or the 12-Steps - as a reminder of who they are, how they got here, and how they're going to continue in their recovery. It is in the act of telling their stories - admitting to people who are often new friends being met for the first time that they fell and were found, that they're trying and it's hard, that they're glad for the fellowship along the journey - where the strengthening by the Higher Power occurs. Confession to a fellow seeker, acceptance for who are you and where you're at, and authentic, often palpable support in the form of a meal or a bed for the night - these are acts of love and charity, outreach and human kindness that form formidable bonds of fellowship. I also sense a genuine curiosity among these seekers to hear another's story, to know that they are not alone in their story, and a keen awareness of interconnectedness because their stories are the same, about fallenness and redemption, and only the details are different.

Third, not only do these fellow seekers somehow recognize one another, but they also recognize the tenuous nature of one another's journey to recovery and are alert to extending themselves to help a fellow seeker stay on the path to recovery. My young motorcyclist friend writes about making a long ride out of his way to get gas for a fellow seeker who was stranded by the side of the road in the pouring rain. It wasn't just that the new friend by the side of the road needed gas; he also needed to know that someone else was supporting his journey to recovery through the small act of kindness of providing a physical need - the gasoline. There was an unspoken recognition that little things trip us up when we are seeking to become our better selves, and that small acts of kindness say that we know that we need each other, that it's an inescapable fact that we need each other in order to stay on our journey to our better selves.

As I reflect upon these several aspects of these 12-Steppers' experience, I must admit that I haven't experienced anything like them in my lifetime of being a Christian church member. I don't think I'm alone in my admission. I haven't experienced the kind of humility in my Christian community that makes me aware of my fallenness where I can confess to my sisters and brothers my powerlessness. Our confession is to God, and there is a sense in which it is sterile, personal and private - safe. I haven't experienced it on an emotional level; I have contemplated it on an intellectual level, and it's not the same thing.

Where I do experience Christian community that is more intimate, immediate and raw is in some of the small committees and educational groups in which I participate. The experience of community occurs when we share our lives, telling our stories of family, challenges, sadness and defeat, and celebration, passages and new beginnings, and not when we are doing the reporting, planning, organizing and strategizing of the institution or project.

It has often been said that being a true follower of Jesus' Gospel is a radical act that is dangerous and scary. I suspect that home church fellowships and missionary churches might get closer to that experience than mainline denominations with our hierarchies, plethora of structure and myriad buildings.

In the 12-Steppers' fellowship, I see accountability to one another as fellow travelers, which I don't see in denominational Christianity, where our accountability is to God and to the hierarchy. I'm beginning to think we've missed something important, and we're being called to go and find it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Averting Negativity

I just happened upon an online article about how to shield one's self from negativity, and it got me thinking about how I protect myself that way and hang onto my sanity and sense of personal peace. Here are my key tips:

1. Give yourself permission to say "No."

I'm not just talking about saying "No" when someone asks you to do something you don't want to do. Of course, it's important to be able to say "No" to another's request when you don't want to go along just to get along. I'm thinking more along the lines of saying "No" internally, where no one else may even know that you've said "No." It's the self-talk that gives yourself permission not to ramp up your anxiety when the anxiety demons are yelling and screaming inside your head to give in to their scree and let your emotions spin out of control. It's the dogged digging in of your mental heels that says to those anxiety demons, "I'm not going there, and you can't make me go." In practical terms, what's usually involved is empowering yourself to ignore the inputs all around you that point in a direction you've decided not to follow. The key is making the decision not to be pushed and pulled.

2. Practice strategic self-indulgence.

Sometimes it's important to indulge in periods of rest, relaxation and self-pampering - especially when your psyche is telling you, "Stop the world. I want to get off." It's a known fact that we Americans do not have a good sense of sabbath, where we honor the time intentionally set aside for recuperation, renewal and reconciliation with our families, friends and better selves. Even our leisure activities tend to be programmed, time intensive and often competitive, so that our work habits spill over into our time away from work. Often referred to as "mental health days," we must take the initiative to walk away occasionally from all that important stuff to take care of the truly important stuff of rekindling our spirits and reconnecting to the things that give us joy and hope. Practically speaking, this might look like anything from a spa day to a day of hiking or hibernating inside with the phones and computers turned off. You get to choose.

3. Lighten up.

Negativity often appears in the form of feeling weighted down with no apparent path to emerge for air and sustenance. So, lightening up in every sense of becoming lighter is helpful. I find that fasting for a day, culling old clothes from my closet, canceling unwanted magazine subscriptions, filling up the recycle and Goodwill bins, or cleaning the fridge all drive the negative vibes away. I emerge from those activities feeling immensely nimbler, more energized and eager to go on rather than feeling mired. For us inveterate list makers, lightening up has the added benefit of items being checked off your "to do" list.

4. Listen to music.

Most of us have some favorite music that we find inspirational and uplifting. I suggest making playlists or CDs of the dozen such pieces to play over and over when you need an emotional boost or calming of frayed nerves. Several years ago, Herb made a compilation of different artists' performances of Amazing Grace for me, and I recently made a compilation of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah by different performers for myself. Those compilations lift me up when I'm in the doldrums and feeling unmotivated. To give myself a proverbial kick in the pants and get the juices flowing when I need to tackle a big project around the house, I have other compilations of driving rock music that no one can sit still to. This is probably the tip that I forget to turn myself onto most often, because I tend to read and work at my computer in silence.

I'd be interested in hearing your tips to avert negativity.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Greatest Treasure

My daughter's wedding celebration on the 4th of July in Las Vegas was an intense event that has engendered in me the entire spectrum of emotions, from satisfaction and contentment that she is happily married to a partner who will love and support her in her life, to sadness and disappointment that life is so hard and daunting for other young people I know and love. There is a part of me that longs to be able to fix the things that have gone wrong for these young people, and, of course, I can't, and I know it.

The juxtaposition of myriad happy moments with news of schism in the church, recurring illness of several beloved friends, and bad behavior by celebrities and government officials everywhere just makes for a confusing end to a celebratory week. I find myself taking things seriously again and choking on the bile that rises up from the unfairness of disease and poverty and the stupidity and perfidy of famous people with their privilege and position.

I am reminded once again to tend the little patch of garden I've been allotted in my part of the world, to pet my cat, smile at babies, drop some coins or folding cash into the cup, and say a prayer for those I encounter who look down in the dumps or in pain, whether physical or psychic. Those are the things that I can do, and that I should do. It sometimes seems like it would be easy to give up, to say, "Damn it, damn it, damn it," stamp my feet in frustration, and retire to a life of quietude and insulation in my room.

But that's not how most of us are made. We are made for each other and wither when we do not have the approbation of colleagues, friends and family to say, "Good job, well done, glad for the presence of you." We are made for each other and need the interference of others in our lives just as we need to engage, disrupt and poke around in the lives of others in order to feel alive, to feel the reflection of ourselves in and on others, and likewise to reflect others back to themselves for their wellbeing. Ubuntu: I am, because you are. Namaste: the divine in me greets the divine in you. Yin Yang: interconnected and interdependent - this is the way of the world. 

In an email conversation with a fellow parent, she mentioned her experience of going away to college, an expected event that involved getting on a plane and going off to the big city, prepared to be independent and to solve any problems that might arise on her own. I think that we have somehow messed up in the way that we have raised our kids with so much coddling and privilege. It feels like our children are experiencing independent adulthood at a slower pace, later age, than we did and than their much older siblings did. Part of it is that as older parents, we were able to provide a lot more support of all kinds, which we did willingly.

Raising kids is never easy, and you never get it quite right. You just do the best you can and hope for the best. Luckily, all of the kids in our extended family have turned out great, without too many scrapes and bumps along the way. Their greatest treasure is knowing that they have this huge, loving, supportive family that they can truly, truly count on, no matter where they are, no matter when the need arises. I just wish that all kids had this advantage of a family that loves and supports without judgment and condemnation. I just wish . . .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Gift of Being Slow

I've been thinking a lot about the gift of being slow. . . slow to anger, slow to respond, slow to speak my mind. It's a bit countercultural in the sense that our contemporary culture is based on speed . . . getting things done fast, checking things off a list, driving the shortest route quickly, so that we can move to the next task, assignment or appointment.

The gift of being slow when responding to something that causes your emotions to flare is that the passage of time allows you to reflect on what has been said or done. You get to put things into perspective, so that the words or actions don't get blown out of proportion to what's true of the overall relationship.

If you take a mental step back, away from the immediacy of the words and actions, you also get the chance to reflect on the possibility that you may have misheard the words or misinterpreted the actions. It is possible that you just might be mistaken and that the immediate response you might have given would cause harm to the relationship.

One of my practices when I was working in a large banking organization was to slow down my response to requests from senior management. I had observed that a couple of my senior managers routinely asked for fact-finding reports, driven by their own immediate emotional response to a situation, and then they didn't utilize the information and on occasion, even questioned why the information was being sent to them.

Those senior managers were showing their concern and care about situations through the act of asking for those fact-finding reports. My deliberate slow response was my attempt not to react to those senior managers' anxiety and to utilize my limited staff resources responsibly. Obviously I was judicious in my slow responses, recognizing what was important vs. what was urgent and anxiety-laden, since being unresponsive to senior management could be a real career killer.

Recently, I have been exercising slowness in sharing my opinion about events and situations. (Thus, I have accumulated a number of posts that I've written but not posted right away. That's why suddenly I am posting several from seemingly out of nowhere.) I find that taking the time to reflect on what I want to say always yields more nuanced responses from me and more receptivity from the other. For me, I have noticed that the tone of my delivery is greatly enhanced by being slow to respond. I can usually avoid getting personal and being in attack mode. I am less pedantic and offer suggestions rather than solutions. I can share examples of when I had made a similar or the same gesture or mistake. I am more likely to see facets in what has transpired or been said, including sometimes the opposing views of the other.

You cannot know the mind of the other, but you can take some time to reflect on what might be motivating the words and actions of the other. Such reflection just might help you to see another side to the issue at hand. Such reflection just might help you to see how your part in the situation is interpreted by the other, and whether you are perceived as heaping fuel on the fire or helping to defuse an intense situation.

Ultimately, being slow to respond is about managing my own anxieties. It is easy to get pulled into the emotional content of the other's strongly held opinions, which sometimes get delivered in the form of angry outbursts or invectives and personal attacks. I don't like being called names or being accused of unbecoming behavior any more than anyone else.

However, as a leader, it is incumbent on me to discern the difference between the true content of the other's complaint or concern and the anxiety the other is expressing. My job as a leader is to respond to the content and not to the anxiety. Easier said than done, but worth thinking about and addressing with a genuine willingness to modify one's own behavior and responses.

Betwixt Living and Dying

When Herb was first diagnosed with end stage renal failure fifteen months ago, we turned our focus to dying and all the permutations and ramifications of the death of a husband, partner, father, breadwinner, friend and all around good guy.

Living with a diagnosis of an end stage illness is always waiting for the other shoe to fall. You go about your business and fill your days with busyness, but you also have one ear turned towards the cosmic, alert to the sounds of the clockwork universe slowing, a ping out of place that stirs your heart. You wait even as you live and you do.

We had decided with courage and bravado not to stop living as we were used to doing, because neither one of us wanted to stop being who we are, who we were. Herb didn't want to be the "sick guy," and he didn't want me to stop being the person he has always loved, the one with a multitude of interests, friends and causes.

But, still, there is a part of you that waits for an alarm to sound that will call you out of your everydayness and fling you into the activities of hurried, important phone calls to make arrangements with doctors and airlines, rushing to the airport to be where you're needed, talking to family members and comforting and calming, recalling that you are the best of the best when it comes to someone to be in charge in case of an emergency. It is exhausting.

Then he lived, and lived, and lived, and after more months than those hinted at but not quite promised, I decided that I couldn't live that way any more, and I decided to stop thinking of Herb as dying. That shift of framing where we were at was helpful for a short while. It gave me some breathing space to inhabit my days more fully, less distractedly.

Then it seemed like we were at another turning point. We came back from the Alaskan Inside Passage cruise with Herb enjoying the entire experience and not being overly taxed by the travel and excursions. But three days after our return, Herb came down with a bug of some sort that laid him low again, and I worried. This time, I was scared, and I said to him, "It's time to think about moving back to Colorado, to live where the rest of the family lives, because I don't want you to die alone."

Fast forward another month, and everything has settled back down. It turns out the bug was just a fleeting bug, here for four or five days and gone. Herb's energy returned enough that he took a consulting assignment that he said was really fun, his word. It was intellectually stimulating to help solve engineering problems and fun to be busy and productive.

Today we travel to Las Vegas for the big family and friend celebration of our daughter's marriage to her partner of four years. We are so excited for our girls and for our family. This is the same Chinese family that told me forty-some years ago when I married my son's father, an Irish American, that their children wouldn't be allowed to marry anyone who isn't Chinese. Of course, as time progressed, many of their children married non-Chinese spouses, and they love those spouses and the children of those unions. I am so proud to proclaim that this same Chinese family is rallying in force and with joyful acclaim to see Cecelia and Jamie married as the first LGBT couple in our family. (The girls were legally married in Massachusetts where they live earlier in June.) Hallelujah! The God of Ages is great indeed.

Being Offline and Coming Back

I've not posted much the last three months for a variety of reasons. None of those reasons has been lack of subject matter or emotions. Indeed, it would be fair to say that there has been an excess of emotion, too raw and immediate to share for one like me who tends to be considerate in just about every respect. I think this is the part of me that my daughter has criticized several times in the past - what I interpret as her interpretation of a lack of emotional authenticity or depth on my part.

The word that comes to me is restraint. I think that I am a person of restraint, a restraint that arises naturally out of the core of who I am, when it comes to how my actions impact others. On the other hand, when my actions have impacted me alone, I have lived episodes of intense extremes and excess, gulping and grasping as many experiences as I could, as quickly as I could. And of course, the passage of time has ameliorated many of those excesses, dampened them simply because as one gains people and things in one's life, one loses discretionary time.

Herb and I have been a unique couple that way. He claims a self-named family motto of "Nihil nisi ad excessum," Latin, meaning "Nothing, if not to excess," and that family motto became his and mine for many years. When we got into pinball, we would play literally all day at a local pinball parlor without stopping to eat. The same thing with bowling, when we once played from the time the bowling alley opened until it closed, and our fingers were swollen from grasping the 16-lb bowling balls. When I paired with Herb, it was hard for me to remember restraint, because he always encouraged me to "go for it."

Upon reflection, I recall that even as a child, I didn't do much emotional falling apart when things saddened, angered or frustrated me. I was always concerned about the effect of my potential emotional outbursts on the people around me, about how my responses would make them feel. I remember having bouts of anger and people knowing that I was angry, because I tended to stay angry for a long time. My youth was filled with sarcasm and sharp, well aimed words. That's why Margaret Atwood's early poetry (see Power Politics, an early book of poetry) really spoke to me. But I don't recall any tantrums or eruptions, which I admit might be selective memory. I believe that my mother and my brother have different memories of a scary, angry girl.

So, from my perspective, it doesn't feel like I am "stuffing" my emotions. I think that this containment of my emotions is part of the way in which I experience my "self," which I would describe as very self-contained, self-reliant and self-defined. I think this is related to eating the mango from the pit and never the mango meat that has been sliced and served to everyone else by me. It has been fewer than ten years that I have allowed myself the luxury of tasting from the mango meat, because my inclination is always to offer the meat to the rest of the family first.

Yet I have always had a capacity for joy and spontaneous enjoyment of the smallest things. I laugh loudly and often and even giggle. My urge every time I complete the journey into the center of a labyrinth is to break out into a dance like the Peanuts dog character, Snoopy, jumping into the air for the pure joy of being at the center.

Well, I'm coming back. I expect to be posting again regularly, and I'm thrilled to have my voice back in this forum. I've been through some health adventures with Herb, which I'll tell about later. There have been a plethora of church meetings for which I've had heavy work assignments before, during and after. I've talked about them in other forums such as Facebook, Twitter, the HoB/D listserv, and various meetings where I've given presentations and reports, etc. I certainly have had no shortage of words in the past three months that I haven't posted here regularly. I've missed all of you terribly.

from Power Politics, an excerpt from a favorite poem:

We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.
The things we say are 
true; it is our crooked 
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.