A little light reading


I see bloggers sharing photos of stacks of books. I’m not sure what the purpose is besides showing everyone what they’re reading in a quick image.

So, here’s my current stack. Oh, who am I kidding? This is only one of what could easily be considered many stacks.

Stack of books

You’ll probably notice that five out of the seven books shown here are library books, and two are even from other libraries and came to be by way of the miracle inter-library loan.

You may also notice that they’re all non-fiction. I keep being invited to join reading groups where the focus is on different fiction genres (sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, etc.). I want to join them, but I it takes me what feel like forever to get through a novel. It’s not that I don’t love novels. I do. But my intense craving for understanding history and how things got to be the way they are is primarily satisfied by these kinds of books right here.

So, from the top down, we’ve got:

Letters of a Homesteader, by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Frontier Women: “Civilizing” the West? 1840-1880, by Julie Roy Jeffrey
Food in History, by Reay Tannahill
Labor’s Promised Land: Radical Visions Of Gender, Race, and Religion in the South, by Mark Fannin
We are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People, by Jeffrey P. Shepherd
African-American Odyssey, by Albert S. Broussard
The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, by Lawrence N. Powell

They may seem like disparate topics, but you can be sure my brain is always looking for ways they intersect. There are so many ways!

Monday Musings


A blogger’s happy meal.

Crackers cheese and pears on flower plate

This is a picture of today’s lunch. It’s not that much different from the lunch I have most days. It’s pretty perfect in that it satisfies my cravings for something sweet and something salty, something crunchy and something smooth. But there’s also the sheer simplicity of it that satisfies my craving for something simple and uncomplicated, while also being visually satisfying.

I can nibble on it while working on blog research or writing. Which is good because I tend to get wrapped up in whatever project I’m working on and forget to eat lunch until I’m past hungry and into the making poor decisions state. Too many times Eric has come home to me greeting him at the door asking, “What’s for dinner? I’m starving!”

I always use what I refer to has my “happy plates.” Simply put, they’re plates that I’ve bought here and there that make me happy. This one came from Goodwill almost 9 years ago, and was the plate I kept at my desk when I worked in a real office. I had a mug that matched the color of the line around the edge, and a large white bowl. They were the set of real dishes I used to heat up and eat lunches I brought from home so I didn’t have to eat out of a plastic bowl.

These crackers are my current favorite crackers, Stoneground Wheat from Trader Joe’s. The cheese is TJ’s Monterey Jack, which is nice and mild and creamy. And the pear is an Anjou that I picked up several weeks ago, also from TJ’s, and has softened in the fridge so it’s perfectly sweet and juicy. The project that I worked on while eating was research for a post about a television show, which I’ll post on my “princess blog.”

While snacking, I was thinking about the kinds of things I’m sure many bloggers ponder: How can I make sure I make it entertaining enough for others to want to read? And share? Is this going to sound stupid? Maybe I should just check Facebook for a minute.

In fact, I think a lot of the blogging work I do is thinking. Which is one of those things that’s difficult to quantify and sometimes challenging to justify, even if only to myself. Or, maybe I should say, especially to myself. See, there’s a part of my brain that doesn’t think I’m a very good writer. And so when I’m in the thinking stage of writing, that part feels like it’s necessary to share its opinion. Loudly. And often.

When I’m in the writing stage I’ve already turned it off, or at least down low enough that I can ignore it. But when I’m doing the brain work, contemplating where to start, and how to organize things, it’s more difficult. It’s not impossible, of course. If it were, I’d never write anything. I have developed strategies to counter most of its arguments, most of the time.

But it is harder when I’m tired, or sad, or hungry. Which is why it’s really important for me to eat. Especially something that makes me happy. Hence, my happy meal — something delicious, appealing, and pretty that nourishes my body as well as my soul.

Advent 2


Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 2 Peter 3:14

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” Mark 1:2-3

I bristle at the admonition to “have patience” in the face of suffering. I am thankful that Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote in her message following the readings that patience in this context may not mean simply sitting quietly and waiting.

As Peter puts it, we wait for a new heaven and a new earth, in spite of all the forces that stand in the way. We wait patiently, confident that God is working his purposes out. Yet patience does not mean total passivity. Perhaps surprisingly, passive originally meant that one was capable of suffering; today it often implies that one is unfeeling and unresponsive. To live as Jesus did is to embrace the world’s suffering — in as full a way as possible — and yet to endure, knowing that God is still in our midst, and in the heart of the pain. Patience in this season of waiting is not just about putting up with delay, but having deep compassion for all who wait for justice, healing, and peace. It is about solidarity, and suffering-with (which is the literal meaning of compassion).

John the Baptizer is announcing the presence of compassion in the flesh — and reminding his hearers that God’s road builder toward that future is coming. Not only will a fellow sufferer stand with you, but he will help unfold that path to a healed world. The pathway isn’t finished yet, but if you’ll turn around, you will see it and become part of it.

Advent 2In this way, patience is a virtue in that it re-centers the individual within the larger world with its suffering and its grace, placing the focus on hope. By remaining centered and aware of the larger problem, we can offer compassion freely, with the strength to resist despair, which is the absence of hope.

And it is hope that allows us to continue forward on on our task to prepare the path toward righteousness.

I worry that the word patience is sometimes used to stop that forward movement by those who are afraid of what they believe they will have to give up in order to live in a truly just world. People in positions of power have long turned to those they oppress with advice to “have patience” to dissuade them from taking meaningful action. We see it even now when some misuse the words of Dr. King to calm angry protesters, claiming they are tarnishing his legacy.

But patience has its limits. And the patience that Peter is advising is not the passive kind that does not push forward. We are told to wait for the coming new world by making sure we are the very best we can be, “without spot or blemish.” I would argue that passively allowing another to abuse and mistreat us is a type of blemish, and that standing up to that kind of treatment is not only a matter of self preservation and/or solidarity, but one of incredible patience as well. Patience in knowing that while we may suffer additional abuse, we are working for the betterment of ourselves and the betterment of our world.

“We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience… But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, December 5, 1955

I am struck by the phrase “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Many of the images we have of Jesus or John the Baptizer have them quickly being surrounded by throngs of excited, accepting people. We forget that they were seen as kooks and frauds by many in their day, forced to go out into the literal wilderness to pursue their cause. We are viewing them through the lens of over 2000 years of history, and compressing their lifetimes into a few moments as we read through their stories, it becomes easy to forget that they had to face the daily abuse of those who wanted them to simply be quiet.

Lone dissenters in modern times are rarely viewed so charitably. And yet, to stand up against oppression we may have to stand alone at times in what is surely a kind of social wilderness with hostile forces all around us. Solidarity is not guaranteed, and we need to have the strength of our convictions to do it anyway. By the same token, when we see others making a stand toward the same goals, we must support them however we can, in whatever way they need.

This is our task. This is the road to the future. We are the ones who must build it, “through the wild and fearsome darkness.”

Beware


Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:33 

When I was a child going to Sunday school (we were Southern Baptist at the time), this is one of the teachings that stuck with me long after church was out. I suppose it had something to do with the idea that children should always be on their best behavior in case an adult is watching, or something like that. “Be good” was pretty much my mantra at the time.

As an adult, I read this passage somewhat differently. Sure, it can still be interpreted as suggesting that people should always be acting as though Jesus was coming back tomorrow. It’s clear to me that many people still feel this way when I see jokes like “Jesus is coming! Look busy!” As though Jesus is the boss who will fire us for being lazy.

Instead, I read it as a reminder to be wary of being turned away from our mission. Be careful that we don’t become so wrapped up in our own experiences that we neglect our task to make life better for everyone. This is especially important for people in privileged positions in society. Just because I don’t have to worry about some issues, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care about them or work to improve them. I must make the effort to become and remain aware of issues that negatively impact others, and work to reconcile them.

episcopaladvent-6
 
On a more personal level, I also read this as a reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one, and that at any time I could lose someone dear to me. Or that I may be the one to leave them. And because of this uncertainty and impermanence of life, it is important to be mindful during the joyful moments, with the knowledge that they are precious.

Monday Musings – Coming Home


I love synchronicity. It always feels like it’s a kind of reminder that whatever I’m doing is the right thing.

Tonight I was determined to get back into my new winter routine of shutting off everything, lighting a candle and welcoming the darkness while quietly reading. Before stepping away from the computer, though, I re-read the Advent readings for this week, and checked the word of the day, as well as re-read my post from yesterday. Yesterday’s word was “awake” and today’s is “coming.” (This will be eerily important soon.)

I lit my candle and sat down and began thinking about the word “coming” and all its meanings and relevance to Advent and to my own life.

The list I came up with:
Second coming
Homecoming
Coming to a conclusion or decision
Come to Jesus (meaning to be forced to understand something)
Coming out (of the closet as well as the darkness)
Coming in from the cold

I then opened my book, My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, with the intention of just sitting quietly and reading, and not really thinking much about Advent. But, coincidentally, the chapter I read (chapter 15) was more appropriate than I could ever hope for. In this chapter, she’s struggling with the break-up of her relationship and feeling lost in her life. Most people I know have felt this way once or twice in their lives. Honestly, I think of this kind of struggle as the hard work of becoming a whole person.

In those strange, clear days in late spring in Paris, I remember finally realizing with earthshaking certainty this simple yet essential fact: You, and only you determine your own fate. You get only one chance at this life. Do something with your life; open your heart to risk. At some point, enough is enough and you must think of the biggest leap you can fathom and then take it.

I’ve taken this leap. And I’ve watched many dear friends take their own leaps. And the one thing I can say with absolute certainty: The ‘universe’ will always catch you. Always. It always does.

The difficulty comes learning to trust in ourselves enough to believe in what we’re doing. I’m watching a friend going through the process of walking up to the edge of the precipice and then edging back, still unsure. I know that eventually the pain of remaining will cancel out the fear of leaping, and she will close her eyes and hold her breath and step off the edge… and gracefully fall into the open arms of those who love her and support her, and land solidly on her feet, albeit still a bit shaky from the experience.

The interesting, almost coincidental connection between this chapter and its personal relevance and the Advent words I mentioned above are that we can only know we need to make a change once we’ve woken from our slumber of ignoring the problem. And one we’re awake, there is no going back to sleep. Ever. It is only after we leap into the unknown that we realize that we are coming home.

The title of the chapter I read is “It Shook Me Awake.” And the final paragraph reads, “The next day it was warm enough to wear my new red sandals to work. And at the office my Irish friend, Dervla, told me that pigeons — and doves — are the symbol of homecoming.” Now, if that’s not a timely coincidence, then I don’t know what one is.

But how does this relate to Advent and the readings for this week? Well, to me, I have never been one to believe in the strict teachings of the bible I received as a child. Instead, I’ve read it more as a guide with simplified language for complex concepts. When I think of the “coming” of Jesus, what I translate that to for myself is something akin to the majority of the world living in love and kindness. We are not so much waiting for Jesus to return to us, so much as we are tasked with making this world one where his love is ever present.

It is an enormous challenge to ponder, and one that we cannot hesitate to undertake. Because, once we’ve become awake to injustice and hate, we cannot go back to sleep. We must make the leap, jump into the void, do the scariest things, to set the world to right, with the faith that while we running into danger, we are truly coming home.

Advent 1


“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:37

Advent1

I am not a church-going person, unless you count sitting outside watching the birds as church. (I do. I call it the Church of Outside.) And so it’s always a bit of a surprise to them to learn that I do practice certain religious rituals. Primarily, I like to observe Lent and Advent. At least, I do so in my own way. I find it comforting. Like going home, in a way. Home within myself.

This year, the Episcopal Church is taking to social media with a program to bring a kind of daily practice to our media lives. They’re encouraging folks to share an image or post related to the #EpiscopalAdvent word of the day. Today’s word is “awake” and I’ve already posted my image to my Twitter. The word comes from the readings for Advent 1, which ends with the quote I have above.

The word “awake” is rich with metaphorical meaning, and is perfect for sparking some meditative musing. The first thought that comes to my mind is the social justice movement on Twitter and the tag #staywoke, as a response to the building anger about injustices faced by people of color, and particularly black men, in the United States. It was reignited after the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

True justice requires that we all are awakened from the slumber of ignorance and realize that each of us has a role to play in righting any and all injustices. Privilege is easy. It allows those of us who are not directly affected to ignore injustice, as though we were sleeping through life.

The word “awake” also holds special personal meaning for me, on both a philosophical and a physiological level. Physically, my ‘tired monster’ is back again, and I’m sleeping far more than I would like to. While I cannot just wake up from that, it is a timely reminder to check my routine for any possible causes, including making sure I’m taking my vitamins consistently and looking for ways to include more physical exercise.

Philosophically, the word “awake” reminds me to stay present in my encounters. Coincidentally, this image popped up on my Google Plus feed this morning.

Connect
 
It is a timely reminder to stay present in all my dealings — remain awake, in other words. As we slide right into the height of the Silly Season, we will all be pulled in a zillion directions, and have seemingly never-ending to-do lists (shopping, cooking, cleaning, working, visiting, eating, etc.), and the rush to get it all done will make it seem as though we cannot waste even a second of time to smile at the store clerk or to let a confused driver make a mistake.

Already this past weekend, I began to notice more tension and frustration in the people around me at the store or on the freeway. What would happen if we all stopped running to someplace else, and took a deep breath and just stayed calm and in the moment? Maybe we wouldn’t have the “perfect present” for so-and-so, but maybe we would have a more perfect present.

During the holiday season, I have a personal policy of giving everyone a second benefit of the doubt. I already try to give everyone a first one, but it seems that this time of year, many people need another one. To be honest, by doing this I’m actually being quite selfish, believe it or not. I’m saving myself from getting angry or frustrated by what I choose to believe is merely a momentary lapse in judgment by someone who just cut me off, twice, in traffic headed to the grocery store.

But I am also trying to create the world that I want to live in. By choosing to see their rudeness as simply an outcome of the overall social stresses, and not as a personal failing, I am trying to remember that we are all fallible humans relying on the grace of God. I am choosing to see these people as how they will be, rather than how they appear right now. I am trying remember that God has left us in charge of this world, and that, like the servants who were left in charge of the household in that passage from Mark above, we will be called to account for how we have managed things.

Friday Faves


I’m enjoying my time in Kingman,staying with my dear friend Cat’s family with her. Mainly, we’re just spending time sitting and visiting and watching TV and just plain lounging around.

Today, we went out for a bit to visit some of the historic sites around town, which was nice. Kingman is situated along Historic Route 66. Many of the buildings along the highway are old motels. I love the juxtaposition between “historic” buildings and a truly pre-historic landscape.

Kingman through the car window.
 
The landscape is just so beautiful.

Love the sky!
 
We stopped by the Mohave County Court House, a grand old building from 1914, with a World War I memorial. Although, I have to agree with Cat, in that I can’t help but see this statue and think, “Save the clock tower!”

Court House, Kingman
 
Then, once we were done looking at these buildings downtown, we headed over to the old Powerhouse building, where Cat’s mother Arlene works in the Route 66 gift shop.

Powerhouse Visitor Center
 
While there, we visited the Route 66 Museum.

Route 66 Museum neon sign
 
Love this hand-made sign!

IMG_0435
 
What does all this have to do with “Friday Faves?” Well, I’m traveling, so you just know I have my favorite, well-loved and well-used (abused?) travel mug. I tell you, when this thing finally fails for good, I’m going to be is serious trouble. I have five or six travel mugs of different styles and sizes, but this one is my favorite, and gets used far more often than any of the others.

My favorite, well-loved, well-used travel mug
 
Whatever had been printed on the metal plate is long-forgotten. At one time it had a handle, but that broke off probably within the first couple of months of use, leaving a good crack around the outer layer of plastic, which means that sometimes the inner plastic layer sometimes spins freely making it difficult to unscrew the lid when its sat for a long period of time.

But, for all its problems, it is the perfect size, and keeps my tea piping hot for over an hour. The size is perfect for slipping into my book bag when I’m done, which means it was with most of the time when I was commuting to work and during my years in school. And it’s also a well-traveled travel mug. It’s been to Louisiana, Tahoe, Redding, Seattle, Australia, and now Arizona. And, Lord-of-Travel-Mugs willing, it will travel with me to Texas in January, and other exciting places in the future!