Agents of Grace

 www.letterstotheexiles.com

www.letterstotheexiles.com

Last weekend my husband and I went away with another couple for a mountain retreat. We had a wonderful time- ate delicious food, did a little Scotch tasting and the best of all- engaged in deep and meaningful conversation.

While we really do not need any “starter” conversations with this couple, we did bring along a video- Letters to the Exiles, which has 7 short videos with discussion questions to ponder. The videos are so thought provoking. Partly because it has a quirky vibe to the filming: there are all sorts of gems and nuggets of hidden treasures and meanings, almost a grown-up version of “I spy”. But mostly because the content has us thinking about our faith and our purpose in the world in a different way.

One of the segments that spoke to me was about justice in the world: justice is hospitality. Justice is all about how we treat one another. “We don’t give dignity to the other person, we see the dignity inside them.” That set me back on my heels. Even though I try and not portray it, I know that when I see someone less fortunate than myself (and I realize that even using that term “less fortunate than myself” exemplifies the issue) I am thinking, “poor such and such.” My reaction may not be through eyes of compassion but through eyes of comparison: they are less than me- whether the comparison is emotional, physical, or spiritual. Yet for me to be a part of justice in the world, I need to see each and every person with the dignity he deserves because we all are made in God’s image.

When I do so, I see the frailty, humanity, and the potential. I also recognize the log in my own eye. It is when I remove it that I begin to see people as God sees them. I am moved towards compassion and understanding and away from comparison and pride.

I wonder if we truly grasped that concept, where would the hatred and misunderstanding go?

After the Pittsburgh shooting this weekend, I heard someone talk about people coming together to push back those deviants to the basements and their lonely lives. I certainly understand the sentiment. However, I think that would only keep the hatred bubbling up. Jesus called us to pray for those who persecute us and I believe that it is only through God’s power that we can. Anything short of prayer is just simmering hatred.

I am looking forward to watching the movie “The Best of Enemies” when it is released next year. Watch the trailer here. The movie tells “the true story of the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater, an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader. During the racially charged summer of 1971, Atwater and Ellis come together to co-chair a community summit on the desegregation of schools in Durham, N.C.” What is somewhat alluded to in the trailer is the faith of the woman. I am sure that the change in Ellis was due to the many prayers that Atwater and her fellow congregants lifted. His heart change is nothing less than a miracle.

What about you? Have you seen any videos or read any books that have been thought provoking for you? What was your reaction to the shootings of this past week? As I write this, there are too many recent shootings to mention in addition to the PA one. That fact alone should cause us to pause and take a long look at where we are headed as a society.

In the Letters to the Exiles, it reminds us that, as followers of Christ we might live in this world but we are not of it. We are to be agents of God’s grace in a broken world. A daunting task in today’s society but necessary if we are to survive one another.



The Temper Temperer

It is that time of year when we seem to receive all sorts of catalogues that cater to the whims of those looking for presents for the people who have everything.

For some reason we received the Hammacher Schlemmer Catalogue- “Guaranteeing the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 170 years.” There is nothing for sale that I nor anyone that I know really needs, yet I still find myself perusing the pages, seeing the merchandise and thinking “that item would be interesting for ….”

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What made me chuckle was the following:

The Temper Temperer: This is the personal voice muffler that stifles expressive outbursts resulting form the workplace, politics, or a sports team’s performance. Held in place over the mouth or secured behind the head via an adjustable elastic strap, the muffler provides relief from inveterate cursing at a television as well as channeled stress release after a rough day at the office when a pillow in not available. Its sound-dampening quality also makes it ideal for impromptu close-quarters usage during family gatherings when privacy is limited. One size fits all mouths. $49.99

(I wonder if they have something to prevent one’s thumbs from tweeting? - Just a thought….)

While this is humorous it does make me think of a serious matter. Being an adult and part of a civilized society doesn’t absolve someone from actually having self-control. This gadget insists that instead of controlling one’s tongue, you just need to put on your voice muffler.

Being called “a spitfire” as a child, I get it. There were many times in my childhood and youth that I could’ve used the muffler. It certainly would have avoided conflict, hurt feelings, broken relationships and my own punishments.

Hopefully I have learned and improved a little as I have aged. Taming one’s tongue is something that may get better with maturity but always needs to be in check. If not, it can create discord, chaos, broken relationships and at the extreme- destruction.

But I know that one of the promises from God is that He has sent a helper to us (Holy Spirit) that as we grow to be more and more like Him, we demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For as much as we are in need of civility and manners, the true caring of one another cannot be done without God’s help.

In thinking over this past week’s news and the treatment of men and women, it occurs to me that if people, beginning at an early age, treat one another like they want to be treated (or how they would want a loved one treated), maybe some of this miscommunication and hurt can be avoided.

There is a reason that manners have prevailed ever since there was more than one person living in community. Manners are more than pinky-in-the-air hoity-toity-ness: at the core, manners are actions derived from thinking of other people first.

I know that I need the Helper in learning self-control and manners. Left to my own devices I would be (and am) incredibly selfish- saying whatever I want, doing whatever felt good, to whomever regardless of their feelings. I need help in being disciplined in mind, body and spirit. That discipline doesn’t necessarily mean in a punitive way but in a manner that puts me on a different path- the path to caring for one another in love. I find that I have to daily (sometimes minute-by minute) ask God for help in the moments: how to respond appropriately to an awkward conversation, what insights do I need to work with a difficult colleague, how to remain focused on the task at hand, what ways should I do to stay faithful to a goal I want to achieve, when I should speak and when do I need to listen? I find that the more I ask and stay “in touch” with God, the more He changes my mind and attitude so that I am more loving and caring for those around me.

What about you? What gets you riled up? Have you ever had consequences to your outbursts? What were they?

How is your self-control? What strategies do you do to maintain it?

How are your manners? Need a tune-up or is it automatic? How are you in putting others’ needs before yours? Are you balanced with that: not bulldozing your needs over everyone else, nor piling on everyone else’s needs so that you are immobile?

Fortunate for our wallets (not so fortunate for the catalogue company) we have a free and natural temper temperer: the Holy Spirit. It’s the original model and fits great. Guaranteed.

Admissions

Admissions: 

  1. a statement acknowledging the truth of something.

  2. the process or fact of entering or being allowed to enter a place, organization, or institution.

In the spring I saw a play with our son.  It was an off-Broadway, preview play called "Admissions".  It was shown in a small theater at Lincoln Center.  I liked it.  I thought that it gave great food for thought.  Since seeing it, I have read two online reviews.  As with all ideas, there are contrary opinions.  One of the reviews thought the play was good and the other review thought that the playwright didn't do the topic justice. 

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The story centers around the Mason household. In her 15 years as the head of admissions at Hillcrest, a not-quite-first-tier boarding school in New Hampshire, Sherri Rosen-Mason has increased the student body’s diversity quotient threefold: to 18 percent from 6 percent. She and her school head master husband, Bill are quite proud of their influence in changing an old-white-boy-network-prep school to reflect a more diverse society.  Three other characters weigh in on the thoughts of the schools progress: an older, "legacy" administrative assistant; a woman friend of Sherri's- the wife of English head and mother of Sherri and Bill's son's best friend, Perry;  and Charlie- Sherri and Bill's son.  All are white.  But from the first scene, questions are raised about what is equity, diversity and inclusion?  

The play takes place over a series of six months, during Charlie's senior school year.  Charlie does not get accepted to his absolute first choice of school - Yale (a childhood goal and dream)  while Charlie's best friend Perry does.  Perry's "SAT scores were not as good as mine.  He took 2, AP classes while I took 3."  Charlie questions that Perry might have gotten in because Perry has a black father and he, Charlie does not.   So begins the questions about society and race, privilege, position and using one's natural advantage to get ahead.  And, what hypocrisies do we all bring to the table? 

The one reviewer thinks that the playwright tried too hard.  That as a white writer and as white theater attendees, we might be better served not to be the ones talking about this topic. Our mere talking about it makes us seem hypocritical.   Because, as the story unfolds, the liberal parents are liberal as long as it doesn't affect their son.  When the son tries to make amends and bring the dialogue to a new level of discussion, the parents are outraged and default back to the "who do we know so that we can get our son ahead?"

Yet, through out the play, there are statements from all sides of the argument that seem plausible and understandable.  

I think the person who gives the reflective poor review has some valid points.  But I think that the play's topic is appropriate for our times.  We need a venue to talk about all sides of the diversity and privilege debate.  It is only through art that sometimes these topics can come up.  It allows a civil discourse.  

While none of the characters "admit" their biased views, I think the playwright is asking the audience to reflect and admit his/her bias.  He asks us to to recognize and admit our bias for what it is worth and then look at someone else's point of view.  Whether he is asking for a confession on the audience's part, as one reviewer has suggested, might be interpreting too much. The author might be asking for just an acknowledgment of the problem from the audience: any new journey begins with the first step.

What about you?  Have you ever wondered about what you bring to the diversity table?  Preconceived ideas? Unrecognized privilege?  Use of the network system?  Never thought about it?  Below are some links to resources that might give you some food for thought. (As one commenter to the privilege video replied, “Privilege is sitting on a MacBook and commenting on a buzzfeed video about privilege.”) There are always multiple sides to any situation but I believe it is our duty as world citizens to be open and considerate of others and their situations.

Resources:

Video demonstrating privilege walk

Privilege Walk Lesson Plan

Another point of view on the privilege walk lesson plan

All I Need to Know... I Learned From My Dogs.

 Professor Marley

Professor Marley

Lately it occurred to me that I have been struggling against life.  Not one particular strife but life in general and not a huge struggle but large enough to prevent me from doing what I need to do.  I can get myself all tangled up in thoughts:  Why do I get so overworked over something that in the long run doesn't  mean anything?  And then I get worked up for getting worked up.  Why can I not be content?  Why do I waste time by wasting my time worrying and kvetching over things I cannot control?  I feel like a protagonist in a Woody Allen movies - so much angst and mental turmoil over nothing.  

As is many things, I learn about life through the life of our dogs. I see how our dogs behave and I realize that I am doing the same in a human way. 

They loathe getting a bath, especially Marley. If he sees his littermate being carted down stairs, collar taken off and hears the water running, he will hide behind the nearest chair.   Something that should only take a few minutes (they are small dogs after all) can be extended for seemingly hours and can result in water going everywhere.  Once he gets "caught" from his hiding place, he squirms, tries to get out of the stationary tub, and in general makes it very difficult with his struggling.  If he would just relax and let me give him the bath, the process would be so much easier and I think he would even find it enjoyable.

Looking back on the meandering path of my life choices, I see all the times that I tried running away and hiding or struggled in my situation. Some times I seemed to have control over my path's direction and other times I found myself on a path not of my choosing. Sometimes my response to life's choices  was influenced by the calm or frenetic response of others while other times I felt that I couldn't help myself in my response.  Either way, it is my choice on how I respond. I may not have control over the direction but I do have control on how I travel in that direction. 

Lately I just felt a sense of peace, calm and understanding. I can relate to the Hebrew wisdom, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad."  When I feel the anxiety bubbling up and taking over, I think of Jesus' words, "...do not be anxious about your life."  In fact Jesus has a fair amount to say about anxiety/ worry and it involves all aspects of our lives: our physical possessions and our emotional/spiritual well-being.  

I realized that it is all about relaxing and not struggling with the hand that is dealt us.  It is such a waste of time.  I think of how many lessons that I had to revisit because I wasn't listening or understanding due to my squirming and whining, "Why is this happening?  It is not fair."  "Why? Why? Why?" It seemed that all my wrestling with God involved "not getting what I think I deserve".  Thank goodness for God's mercy and that I  do not get what I deserve.  Jesus reminds us that all we need to do is seek the Kingdom of God and everything else will fall into place. 

Looking back I realize so many times I just didn't get it.   At the time, the things that caused me to be all hot and bothered have not been significant at all.  They are just distant and fleeting thoughts.  I am painfully aware of this when I meet extended family members or distant friends.  They might ask me how is so and so or how is the situation?  I have to furrow my brow and think back, "What are they talking about?"  Situations that, at the time, seemed so important are relegated to the recesses of my mind. 

What about you?  Do you worry over your worry?  Is your life filled with angst?  Looking back, what were some of your concerns- 10 years ago?  5 years ago?  1 year ago?  Do you remember what it was?  What can you do to be content?  What are you seeking? 

I pray that I am entering a new stage.  A stage where I can just relax and enjoy where I am, what I am doing and with whom.  I am actively trying to be present for all that I am doing. Which is what Jesus is saying with His wisdom in Matthew 6. 

 All the angst, all the worry and the extra worry of the original worry have done nothing in helping me achieve any goals.  It just prolongs the agony and makes a huge mess. 

Just like Marley's bath. 

 

 

"No Accountin' for Taste..."

 Vivien Oswell's,   Little Petunia in an Onion Patch

Vivien Oswell's,  Little Petunia in an Onion Patch

All art should inspire and make us think about life in a different way.  This little artwork does so for me.   Currently it is hanging in front of me as I sit at my desk. I know that it is an odd image (as my brother-in-law would say, no accountin' for taste...) but the whole process of acquiring the painting, the life and value of the artist and the subject itself speaks to me and encourages me. 

I know that it is not very aesthetically pleasing.  But some things in life are not.  As much as we want things to be otherwise, we can get stuck in the muck and dirt.  It can be very humbling especially when we picture ourselves as a beautiful flower in an idyllic setting and think we are above the mud.  The reality is that we are more in the dirt than we think.  Humble and humus come from the same root words- from the earth. Humility is not a weak character trait;  it is one that cultivates growth. The painting reminds me to be humble in all my endeavors.

Sometimes we are placed in situations that just don't seem to fit.  We are flowers that for whatever reason- circumstances, choices, temperament- we find ourselves growing in a totally unlikely place. We may want to cry over our situation but we can also think of our placement as necessary.  Necessary to maintain balance for ourselves- remaining humble despite what we think we deserve.   Necessary for others to see life in a different way- one can bloom even when the environment seems hostile.  We are called to make the best out of our lives and sometimes we have to live that adage, not just say it. 

The artist always felt that her talent was God's gift to her.  She has been faithful to that gift most of her life, continuing to paint even in her nineties. I first saw this painting three years ago when I had strolled into an artist's guild studio in one of the little villages on the Cape.  At the guild, each artist takes a turn at the sales desk so on the day I visited, Vivien happened to be behind the desk.  I liked her other paintings but was struck by the oddity of this subject, flower and onions against her boating, beach and floral scenes.  When I asked her about it, she said that she wanted to try something different.  She even sang the song to me, "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch" on which the picture was based. We had a lovely conversation about art, the sense of calling and how one needs to persevere in the art practice.  At the time I debated purchasing the painting.  It wasn't "attractive" so I didn't.  Yet over the last three years, I would think about it and think of Vivien.  I would recall her story and it would encourage me.  "Next time I am at the Cape I need to see if I can get it." 

 The original sheet music.  Click here to hear it.

The original sheet music. Click here to hear it.

This year, I decided to go back to the guild and purchase it.  When we went in, we found Ms. Oswell's collection but this painting wasn't there on the wall.   I was so disappointed.   When I asked the artist in attendance about the painting and if Ms. Oswell was still painting (I didn't want to ask if she was still alive, for she is 95 after all)  she said that Vivien had suffered a cardiac incident but was recovering at home. She then suggested that I contact Ms. Oswell to ask her about that specific painting.  When I finally got up the courage to call her (it is daunting to contact an artist, especially one not well), Ms. Oswell answered the phone and said to come on over to her house/studio. She was all excited saying she had the original.  We made an appointment to meet at her house.  When we got there, she was up, alert and didn't look at all that she had any health issues.  She was sitting in her living room/art gallery.  There were wooden bins of prints and paintings all around the perimeter.  Various sized canvases were stacked against the wall.  There appeared to be hundreds of her works scattered all around.    She proudly showed us a painting of a bowl of petunias. While the painting was beautiful it was not the one I wanted.   I was crestfallen!

I then asked- what about the one with the petunia in the onion patch?  Generally I am not that bold as to make specific requests of others but at that point, I was not going to let any stone be unturned.  She thought for a moment and then immediately sprang out of her chair- no walker for her- and sorted through a collection of paintings leaning against her fireplace and produced it.  I felt such relief,  joy and satisfaction in purchasing it.  

Sometimes we need to pursue that which inspires us and makes us happy.  The item might not be hanging where we first saw it and so we have to ask questions and do a little digging.  We need to pursue those inspirations because we need reminders of why we are doing what we are doing.  We may find ourselves feeling out of sorts and in the wrong place so we need that encouragement of a word, a quote or even a picture. And sometimes we need to remain where we are and bloom regardless of how things are situated around us. 

What about you?  Have you ever been inspired by a painting, picture, quote or word?  What was it?  Why do you think that it struck a chord with you?   

 Another Vivien Oswell's in our upstairs hallway.

Another Vivien Oswell's in our upstairs hallway.

It is HERE!!! The Anthology Can Be PreOrdered!

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Fifty nurses share their poignant and inspirational stories. What is it like to be a student nurse? What are the joys, the stresses, the transcendent moments, the fall-off-your-bed-laughing moments, and the terrors that have to be faced and stared down? And how might nurses, looking back, relate these experiences in ways that bring these memories to life again and provide historical context for how nursing education has changed and yet remained the same?

In brave, revealing, and often humorous poetry and prose, Learning to Heal explores these questions with contributions by nurses from a variety of social, ethnic, and geographical backgrounds. Readers meet a black nursing student who is surrounded by white teachers and patients in 1940, a mother who rises every morning at 5 a.m. to help her family ready for their day before she herself heads to anatomy class, and an itinerant Jewish teenager who is asked, “What will you become?” These individuals, and many other women and men, share personal stories of finding their way to nursing school, where they begin a long, often wonderful, and sometimes daunting, journey.

Many of the nurse-authors are experienced, well-­published writers; others are academics, widely known in their fields; but each offers a unique perspective on nursing education. Notably, an essay by Minnie Brown Carter and an interview with Helen L. Albert provide valuable ethnographies of underrepresented voices.

Through strong, moving essays and poems that explore various aspects of student nursing and provide historical perspective on nursing and nursing education, all have stories to tell. Learning to Heal tells them in ways that will appeal to many readers, both in and out of the nursing and medical professions, and to educators in the medical humanities.

It is finally here!  The nurse anthology that contains a story of mine, "The Mr. Magoo of Nursing School". (That was the working title, do not know what the editors finally chose.)  Click here to read a review.

  Preorder at Kent State University Press.