Mom to the Left

I'm a mom who tends to live just to the "left" of most of the people around me here in Indiana.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's the anti-maleness!

After I made my last post I got really busy with running errands and then working all day today. But I had lots of time to think about the issue some more. I kept wondering why this is bothering me so much. I mean, for one thing, God doesn't have a gender so it doesn't *really* matter one way or the other. And how I interract with God is a personal thing so it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about it. It's just their opinion.

So why does it bother me so much? And by "it" I mean the idea that you can't refer to God as male. (A friend suggested this was just a hypothetical feminist view when, on the contrary, I've heard from two separate sources recently that the use of masculine terms for God in certain seminaries is strictly verboten.)

Then it hit me. It is the generalization that merely mentioning something as male means it is bad. Male = bad. As a mother of three sons, that was what was tripping me up. It's the throwing the baby out with the bathwater again. Now I can just hear "oh but the male image of God has done so much damage to women and society as a whole for thousands of years". Sigh. I don't disagree with that. But I would say to that that the Bible was written by men at a time when the culture was very male-dominated. It doesn't surprise me a bit that the Bible is one-sided in that way. But I don't blame God for that. I also refuse to blame all males because of what those males did. And yes, many men today continue to marginalize women in some ways. But not all do and it is unfair to generalize that a male image has to be bad. To say that my sons need to bear the guilt for what was done in the past simply by virtue of their maleness is just as bad as women who are offended at the idea that we bear the guilt for what Eve did. Both ideas are misplaced.

It makes me really sad that it has gotten to the point that father figures are no longer considered something to be admired. Are we not to take comfort in supportive and loving fathers?

I'll let you have your Divine Feminine, but I refuse to give up my Heavenly Father.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Confused feminist

Feminism to me is a lot like religion...I am caught somewhere in the middle and don't really seem to fit in anywhere. I share values with one side of the coin while rejecting other values and then certain aspects of the other side of the coin appeal to me. Because I have one foot in each side of the issue, I feel like I am always on the outside.

I grew up in a fairly conservative environment. My father was the main breadwinner of the family and worked as an elementary school teacher. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until all of us kids were in school and then she went back to work part-time as a hairdresser. I remember being vocal from a young age about girls being allowed to do whatever boys can do. I resented being the one who had to make dinner and do the dishes on evenings my mom worked because I was the oldest girl. But that is really the only slight I can remember from growing up. I don't remember ever being told I couldn't do something because I was a girl.

As for my parents, my mother was happy that she got to have the life she always wanted - to be a mother and have a family. To her, everything else was secondary. A year or so ago I was talking to her and she told me that that's all she ever wanted. She never had desires to go to college or have a career. Now, I know there are those (who don't know my mom, btw) who would say that those ideas were planted in her head from an early age. First of all, I'd say that is an arrogant stance to take about someone you don't know. And secondly, my mom is happy with her life. She was able to have what she set out to get and now she is surrounded by grandchildren whom she loves to spoil. You can see her face light up when her children and grandchildren come to visit. For anyone to suggest that she "should have" done something else makes me angry.

My father was the breadwinner, but he wasn't what I ever considered a traditional hands-off father. As a teacher, he was home from school by 3:30 each day. He did as much or more with us than my mom did. He was always there to pick us up after school from volleyball or band practice. He went to every marching band performance I was ever in in high school (and even some in college). I remember him waking up early and taking me in for jazz band practice at 6:45 a.m. before school. And I don't remember him ever setting me apart for being female...none of that princess mumbo-jumbo that you sometimes hear about. When we were elementary age, I remember sitting outside on a blanket under our huge oak tree while he read to us.

Yes, my upbringing was fairly traditional. But I have a really hard time with those who would say that I was suppressed or damaged in any way by my mother's *choice* to stay-at-home with us or my father's being the main breadwinner in the family. To me, it seems that some feminist are just as guilty of taking away choice from other women as the mysoginists they complain about. Shouldn't it be about choice? And for those who counter with the idea that women are somehow "damaged" as children by being made to believe they have no choice, I find that just as controlling.

Recently I've been thinking a lot about religious feminism, specifically with respect to how we refer to the Divine. It is now politically incorrect to refer to God as He because that sort of thing "damages" us. Apparently male images of God are hurtful because men are hurtful. See, this really bothers me. I find the image of a Father who is always there holding out his arms to extend grace to us and help us through our difficult times VERY comforting. But I'm not supposed to do that. I'm supposed to see a Father figure who is oppressive. I'm supposed to see "Mother Earth" or the "Divine Feminine". I have tried to conjure up those images, but I find that very hard to do. It just doesn't work for me. When I think of God, I think of my Dad sitting under that oak tree with we three children at his feet as he read to us. How is that a bad thing??? I resent the implication that I should abandon that image because there is something inherently wrong with it. To me, a loving father figure is a comfort. I realize that for some people that isn't the case, but shouldn't I have the choice to interpret God in a way that works for me? I guess I always thought feminism was about the right to choose.


Heavens to Betsy - Beth Pattillo

This book, Heavens to Betsy, jumped out at me from the "New Books" shelf at the library. It is about a woman minister and it has a church, a high-heel pump, and a lipstick on the cover. On the back cover is a short bio of the author who is herself an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was really interested to see what this book was like.

I have to honestly say that after finishing it I was a little disappointed. While the "big issue" in this book is the fact that she is a female minister in a traditionally male role, there are also the "chick lit" issues like how can she find a man. Lots and lots of drama about her being accepted by her congregation. I spent the biggest part of the book getting really frustrated with her for being such a doormat. I just couldn't get out of my head the thought that why on earth would someone be a member of a congregation that is so hateful? Furthermore, why would anyone want to be a minister in a congregation like that?

I think it was hard for me to imagine because in our denomination I cannot imagine the kind of prejudice that Betsy faced. I may be naive, but I can't imagine any UU protesting someone's ability to be a minister because she is a woman. (I did, however, enjoy watching the meetings of the board and finding familiar issues such as the unspoken belief that the biggest financial contributor to the church pulls the strings.) I guess I was disappointed that characters in her book were being so "un-Christlike" in their behavior and she wasn't calling them out on it.

Now, in the end she did handle the issue with the one congregant who was stirring the pot and she did it in a very loving and Christian way. I did commend that. And she did finally stand up for herself. But it just felt like too little too late for me.

I think part of what bothered me was that I saw part of myself in her. She had very low self-esteem issues and it made me wonder how she could be in such a leadership position as a minister. And frankly, despite the fact that she proved (?) that a woman could be minister, I'm not sure she did much to dispel the belief that women are emotional weaklings who buckle under stress. At the end of the book, I feel the stereotypes remain and that disappoints me.

I think the main character, like myself, waffles between being feminist in wanting the right to do things traditionally done by males but at the same time resents being told by other females that she can't wear make-up or enjoy shopping or (gasp) let a man hold a door for her. This topic is really brewing inside me right now and I am planning on having much more to say on issues of feminism.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I've been too busy this week to sit down at the computer and post here in my blog. Generally, I am doing well. My nightly meditation is going well (with the exception of this weekend when I stayed up too late watching TV and went straight to bed and skipped the meditation). I am enjoying the peaceful time. I basically begin by trying to clear my mind of all thoughts. I maintain the position of neither rejecting nor holding onto thoughts, but let them wax and wane as they naturally do. I have already encountered two subjects that are causing me some discomfort and I want to pray on them some more. Specifically I am troubled by guilt/shame and I am also finding myself more and more troubled by issues of feminism.

Big J and I have talked about how sometimes we recognize signs in our daily lives. Little things that happen and could be contrued as coincidences, but there is often a pattern which has meaning in our personal lives. For him, he was noticing many messages about the need to be more conscious of his cholesterol. Things kept popping up trying to get him to pay attention to his eating and exercise habits. For me, issues of feminism keep popping up. I just finished another book this morning (blog book review forthcoming) that has once again stoked the flames of feminism and my own identity. I feel like I waver between two sides of the issue and don't quite know where I fit in. I could go into this issue in its own post (or series of posts) later when I have more time.

Among the many things we've done this week, we have renewed our lapsed membership at the Y. This was primarily Big J's idea (on his anti-cholesterol kick) and Little J was a big supporter (he needs a workout venue now that wrestling season has ended). And I have to say it is something I need. My doctor told me several months ago that I would be wise to lose 20-30 lbs and my blogger/email friends Head Case and Yogamum have both been excellent examples of women who successfully got their bodies moving and have gotten in good shape. I should follow their examples. My plan is to start out by getting the old bones moving and blowing the dust off my rickety old joints. Then I may sign up for a yoga or pilates class. We'll see. Plus we'll have a free admission to a swimming pool this summer (well not free if you count our membership fee, but you know what I mean). The boys are excited about that part.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

This week I finished reading Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult. I loved it!

I have found that my reading goes in phases. For a long time now I have been "off" fiction. Nothing that was coming out was interesting me in the least and I've been reading a lot of nonfiction (mostly religious) instead. But I've felt a yearning for a good story again so I was browsing around the library shelves last weekend and I stumbled upon the Jodi Picoult section. Ah, yes, Jodi Picoult. I read something by her a couple of years ago...I think it was Keeping Faith. I like Picoult's books because they aren't the "romance-y" kind of supermarket books that seem to be everywhere. I'm just not at a point in my life where I have much interest in the strictly romance kind of read. But Picoult's books, while they may have a secondary romance element, the main story is usually something else.

In Vanishing Acts, the main character (Delia) is a 31-year-old woman with a four-year-old daughter. Despite the fact that she grew up without her mother whom, she was told, died when she was only four, she feels she had a charmed childhood. Her father was the best parent she could imagine and was always there for her. When a police officer shows up at her door and arrests her father for kidnapping her, her world is thrown into a tailspin. She returns half-way across the country to a town and a mother she'd all but forgotten to learn the truth about who she is.

This was a page-turner and I really loved it. It's one of those books where after you finish it you sit and wonder what is happening to your old friends from the book. You start to miss the characters and wish it hadn't ended.

Anyway, Picoult has published many books, so I plan to go back and read them while the fiction bug has me.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, is for me a day to commit myself to the process of introspection and reflection that is Lent. I am committing myself to daily meditation and prayer and focusing on the issues that have been standing in the way of my being in tune with God. Also, because my church attendance has been low for the last year or so, I am committing myself to attending church every Sunday during Lent (and hopefully thereafter).

I was reading up on Ash Wednesday today. While I don't feel compelled to appropriate certain liturgical elements such as the palm ashes in the shape of a cross worn on my forehead all day until after sunset, I do find a round-about meaning for me in the Ash Wednesday concept of repentance.

The word "repentance" is a tricky one because of the connotations of guilt and shame. Rather than saying I am repentant, instead I will acknowledge that I have some things I need and want to work on. One of the things I plan to work on this Lent season is my perfectionism. I need to give myself permission to just be who I am and to accept myself for that. Also, I have consistently lived in a state of "lacking" rather than "abundance" and, as a result, that is what has manifested in my life. I need to turn that around and focus on the abundance that I already have in my life. And finally, I need to start working on simplicity...paring down my life to focus on what is important while cutting down on the chatter.

This morning I read PeaceBang's blog and I loved what she said about Ash Wednesday in her post entitled Lenten Hiatus:

I'm off to church for a midday service to get smeared on the forehead and reminded that I'm mortal but that I get to spend my eternity with God.

It's okay to acknowledge that I am "only" human while I also rejoice that I will always be part of the divine.

"Remember...that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

My new altar

This is the altar I created yesterday. It's in the corner of my bedroom. It isn't exactly how I pictured it. I'd still like to add either a cross (the one with four equal-length sides) or praying hands would be good (thanks for the idea, Matt!). But one of my "issues" is the need for perfection, so I will say what I have is good enough for now. If I add to it, okay; if not, okay.

Anyway, I tried it out last night. I turned all the lights off except for one nearby table lamp. I lit the candle and the incense. I read from the Bible (I try to read daily using an online UCC webpage that has the Daily Lectionary). Then I closed my eyes for meditation. I tried playing some spiritual jazz music in the background, but found it distracting and turned it off. I did manage to meditate/pray for about 25 minutes. I only had one interruption when D came in to find out what that smell was. ;-)

I'm pretty excited about it, even though Little J says we're becoming more and more like hippies.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Creating an altar

Have any of my readers ever created an altar for prayer/meditation? If so, please comment and tell me how you went about it, what you used, what you use it for.

I am trying to build an altar in my bedroom. I want it in place before Wednesday (Ash Wednesday, don't you know) and because of being snowbound and having no funds, I am looking around my house for items I can use. I think that for now I am going to take a low shelf out of my sons' closet and use it. It previously served as home for their shoes, but it isn't really working as such these days, and I think it will be much more useful in my new prayer space.

I have invited Big J to share the space with me. I plan to bring symbolic items to represent Christianity and theism while concepts such as Humanism and perhaps Buddhism are more important to him. I will include a candle and maybe incense. We have a small buddha statue and a yin-yang button that I find very meaningful. I would like to get a table-top cross at some point. I will tuck a couple of pillows under the table and pull them out to sit on during prayer. If I can make a habit of this, I hope to someday reward myself with a real meditation stool similar to this one.

On Ash Wednesday, Lent begins and so does my plan for daily Centering Prayer. I will let you know how it goes.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith

Yes, I am blogging about Anna Nicole Smith. I have been thinking about her a lot in the days since her untimely death. Now, I have to say that I wasn't an Anna Nicole fan. Her reality TV show was one I could never sit through (and I watch a wide variety of TV shows). She just seemed to me like someone who was so desperate to be loved (by men, fans, etc.) that she'd resorted to the lowest common denominator. I was actually embarrassed to watch her. Didn't she realize how ridiculous she looked?

Why then, am I so bothered by her death? Besides the fact that she was only a few months younger than me, she and I had almost nothing in common. And yet...

I just read an article posted on Jim Wallis' God's Politics blog about Anna Nicole from a theological stand point. I think it describes one reason why her death keeps lurking in my mind. The author is a Christian from the Episcopalian tradition, but mentions a concept we UU's share: the desire for peace and justice and respecting the dignity of every human being.

Now, I know some would argue that Anna Nicole didn't have respect for her own dignity so why should we. To me that sounds like the school kids saying "he hit me first", implying that makes it okay to hit back. My response is the same: you can only control your own actions. Whatever someone else does is beyond your control, but you do have the power to control your own response. In the end you need to ask yourself if you are proud of *your* actions.

Anyway, I feel bad for Anna Nicole. I (and a lot of other people) didn't show much respect for her dignity during her life. I scoffed at her. She deserved better as would any human being. I do hope they'll let her finally rest in peace.


Blizzards - Cool to look at

Blizzards can be cool to look at but not to drive in. Take a look at some of these pictures we took around our house after this week's blizzard came through. The snow has a layer of ice on top of it so people can stand on it without falling through.

D standing atop a 3 foot pile of snow in our front yard.

The view looking forward from the side of our house.

E atop a pile of snow in the cul-de-sac across from our house.

Our backyard. (We're keeping the dog inside, by the way.)


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Old-Fashioned Snow Day

I don't know if you all can relate, but humor me in my walk down memory lane. Winter time was always an exciting time when I was a kid. Living in Indiana, the threat (hope?) of snow was always present. If we were lucky we'd get one or two good snows per winter and miss a day or two of school. And who can forget the blizzard of '78 when snow was 3-4 feet high and we missed school for a week?! Those were the days.

We'd wake up first thing in the morning and hang out by the TV set watching the school names scroll by. In my house, things were a tad different because we had a Teacher (my dad) living there. If our phone rang early in the morning on a snowy day it could only mean one thing. His schools had cancelled classes for the day. Now granted, he taught in a different school system from the one where we lived and where we kids went to school. But chances were good that if his system cancelled, we would too. When our school name finally made its way onto the TV screen (why did *our* school always take so long to make the list?) we'd jump for joy and Mom would slump down in her chair with a sigh of resignation. The really good days were when the weather was so bad that they called school off the night before and we could stay up past our bedtime. But those days were a very rare treat.

Now, my younger brother and sister were the adventurous sort. They saw snow as a challenge to be conquered. They couldn't wait to get all bundled up head to toe and go out into the snow to "play". According to them, I was an oddity. The idea of going outside in frigid temps to voluntarily play in wet snow *for fun* was just crazy to me. No thanks. I remember my mom making me go outside with my brother and sister because the fresh air was "good for me". As a mom, I realize now that she was probably going stir-crazy with us kids in the house and was hoping for a moment's peace.

Anyway, we'd play in the backyard building a snow fort and having a snowball fight or maybe making a snow man. We'd be out there until our noses and fingers were red and frozen (even inside the gloves and scarves). When we came in there'd be hot chocolate to help thaw us out. I remember playing board games and watching TV (this was before the days of VCR's and DVD players). One year when I was probably in 5th or 6th grade, I remember mom painting my fingernails when we had a day off school. It's funny the things you remember 30 years later.

These memories are fresh today because we've had one of those old-fashioned snow days today. They aren't very common anymore. Nowadays schools have adopted a "delay" policy rather than cancel the entire day of school. While "2-hour delays" are fairly common, an entire day off is rare. The weather has to be really bad for the school to be closed. But today the Indianapolis area got around a foot of snow covered with a layer of freezing rain (a.k.a. ice). Some of the outlying counties have snow emergencies where no one is allowed out on the roads. Even in the cities major attractions like universities, museums, libraries, malls, etc. are closed. Here's a picture of the front of our house this afternoon when it was still snowing...

So this morning I watched my kids jump for joy when they saw their school name scroll across the TV screen. Big J even whooped for joy like an eight-year-old when he saw his company post that they were staying closed today. And like my dad, I received the 5:30am phone call telling me not to go to school today. We went back to bed and slept in. We watched old movies on video tape, put together a jigsaw puzzle, and the boys played with their Legos. I didn't make the boys go outside to play in the snow (which wouldn't have been much fun with the freezing rain anyway). We literally just took the day off. Sometimes everyone needs to just do that.

Heaven help me, they just announced schools closed for tomorrow! Here we go again...


Monday, February 12, 2007

Thanks a lot, Eve!

Yesterday afternoon was the monthly meeting of our UU Christian Circle. This was our third meeting. We've been taking turns meeting at someone's home and we take turns coming up with the topic for discussion. We aren't very rigid in our planning. The person leading the discussion usually comes with a particular topic in mind and brings along some readings to share. Then we discuss while sitting around sipping coffee and a light snack. Yesterday, we had a good discussion on the general topic, but then our discussion sort of meandered all over the place.

The focus topic this time was original sin and the whole idea that women have been saddled with the blame (and accompanying guilt) and second-class citizenship because of the whole concept of the fall from the garden of Eden. First, the leader brought up the two different creation stories. The first (Genesis 1:26-27) sets men and women up as fairly equal whereas the second (Genesis 2:5-24) creates man first and then, secondly woman is created to keep man company. She also shared with us the Jewish midrash of Lilith. Supposedly the legend of Lilith was created to explain the difference between the first creation story and the second. Lilith was the first woman, but she wouldn't be subordinate to Adam. So she was sent off and Eve was created to be Adam's subordinate companion. Of course, Eve went on to break the rules and get us all banished from paradise while Lilith is reported to have gone off and spawned with demons. We women have gotten a bad rap from the beginning. ;-)

One issue we were discussing was what Unitarians and Universalists think about the concept of sin. By that we didn't so much mean "Unitarian Universalists" who probably have largely done away with the idea of sin anyway. We were thinking more of our traditions' ancestors. How did those liberal Christians understand sin? I shared my understanding of sin being a separation from God due to not following the direction God would want us to follow. They mentioned the (Greek?) definition of sin as "missing the mark". We discussed the belief that God doesn't intercede in daily life, but is there urging us to do the right thing. It is all a matter of us being willing and able to "listen" to those urgings and do the right thing. I think we generally accepted the idea that sinning results from not "listening" to God, but being separated from God in the sense that we aren't doing what God would urge. We're missing the mark.

I don't remember exactly how we veered into this, but we also had a good discussion about UU hymns. I think we were discussing how some hymns have been changed to be gender-neutral. I stepped out on a limb and mentioned how disappointing it is to be at a UU Christmas Eve service and hear these beloved old Christmas carols changed to be more PC. I don't like it and I think it is inappropriate. I think it disrespects the creator of the hymn. Another member felt similarly to me and brought up the fact that we are much more likely to rewrite Christian hymns than Jewish or Pagan songs. This led to a discussion of how various religious traditions are treated within UUism and how criticism of things associated with Christianity is much more likely to occur than criticism of other traditions. Yes, it speaks to a history of injuries, but I find it offensive and I am not alone in that. I also complained that in the last couple of years our UU church's Easter service has become little more than a service from any other Sunday. As a UU Christian, that bothers me. I've gone to other Christian churches for those services but I am always left feeling sad because the meaning, for me, in communion is sharing it with my community. The rebirth of hope is something I wish I could share with my home community and it makes me sad that I don't feel I can.

The fact is that certain aspects of Christianity (not the least of which is its patriarchy) have wounded people in the past. Where I live that is what has led a lot of people to the UU church. But I think it is possible that we hold onto the pain and let it guide us through hatred and intolerance refusing to "get over it" or even getting angry at the suggestion that we "get over it". But we can *forgive* those imperfect humans who've hurt us and choose to let it go and live in today, let go of the past, and make a better choice for the future. I keep seeing people choosing to hold onto old grudges. That cannot or will not let the hurt go to make room for a more loving way of being in the world. Maybe those who are hurting hold onto the notion that forgiving sends the message that what has been done is okay. But the irony of this attitude is that it only prolongs the pain of the sufferer. You are suffering...those who you feel hurt you don't suffer. You cannot change what has already happened. You have the choice to say it is wrong, to let it go, and to decide to live a more positive loving Christianity and put that out into the world. The Christianity of the future doesn't have to be the same as the past. It is only in choosing to hold onto the past that we allow that to happen. Of course, we may not be able to turn the hearts of all Christians, some of whom don't have a problem with its negative past. But we each have the power to make changes in our own little worlds. We just have to decide to do it.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

For One More Day - Mitch Albom

I finished another book today. I've read all three of Mitch Albom's books now. They are all very similar in that they deal with life/death issues. This book, his second fiction book, deals with a man who is depressed about the turns his life has taken. After the death of his mother, he feels he has lost the only person who was truly there for him and he has tremendous guilt that he didn't show her how much she meant to him. In this story, Chick Benetto gets the chance to spend "one more day" with his deceased mother and say the things he never got the chance to say when she was alive. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have just "one more day" to see someone we've lost and to say all that was left unsaid? It's a story of a mother's love, and a reminder that we are all human and make mistakes. It's a little on the sappy side, but I liked it. It does make you want to call up your parents (or any other loved one) and clear the air.


The knot in my back

I have been suffering with a grapefruit-sized knot in my back just under my left shoulder blade. I have been using a heating pad, hot showers, some of those TermaCare wraps that have little metal things in them that warm up. I've gotten Big J to rub my shoulders a couple of times. While those things will make me feel better temporarily, nothing takes it away for good. It has been nearly two weeks now! It's miserable and distracting.

I haven't done anything overly physical lately to cause it. It could be that it is time for a new mattress, but I'm not convinced that's it either. Big J (a trained massage therapist) asked if I was stressed. I didn't really think so when he first asked me, but I've been thinking about it.

I do have a sense of unrest about my life that I suppose could be manifesting itself in the form of a knot in my back. My birthday, while it turned out to be good overall, was difficult for me emotionally. And my professional life (such as it is) has me at rope's end. I feel like I am really close to giving up on my job search. A year ago I was "the" sub. I was first or second on the list, was called and requested way in advance and always filled up my calendar...sometimes getting two or more requests for the same day. Fast forward to today and I am working one or two days a week. Plus, I know that there are subs being called on days when I am not even called at all. And I can't get an interview for a contract position no matter how hard I try. I have been at this for two and a half years and I don't feel my chances are any better now than they were then. I feel like a huge part of my problem is my age. I keep seeing these 22 year old sorority girl types coming right out of college and getting picked up for maternity leaves and even contract jobs. Meanwhile, I get nothing despite the fact that I'm good.

Anyway, I am unhappy a lot these days. I have a lack of balance in my life because I spend almost all of my time thinking about my job prospects. I need to put that on a back burner and honor other parts of my life for a while. Maybe it is true that a watched pot never boils. If I stop focusing so much on my career, maybe something will happen.

In the meantime, I am thinking this could/should be my focus for Lent. While I am excited about the comment below that Rev. Ron made about UUCF Easter resources and I plan to order them, I was also looking at something at Beliefnet that caught my eye. There was an interview with Father Thomas Keating about "Lent as Divine Therapy". I've read a book about Christian Meditation (a.k.a. Centering Prayer) which is a movement Keating is credited with founding. The interview (sorry I don't have the link anymore) describes Lent as a time for spiritual retreat for Christians. (This is exactly what I was talking about looking for.) Here's a quote from the interview that hits the nail on the head for me:

Lent is the time to expect temptation and [experience] afflictive emotions such as shame, humiliation, anger, greed, the time to look at how those instincts, which are developed in early childhood are frustrated -- or gratified. See there's a hazard in self-exaltation if we get what we want, or depression if we don't get what we want. To work on those [emotions] during Lent, I think, is more effective than fasting or rituals.

I need to work on the depression from not getting what I want (a job). I've been interested in Centering Prayer since I read about it. But I am not very disciplined and have only done it in fits and starts. Maybe I'll buy a Keating book (Open Mind, Open Heart maybe?) and use that as my focus for Lent 2007.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Prepared for Lent?

I received a message yesterday from Sojourners because I've signed up for their online newsletters. I consider them a fairly reliable source for what I consider meaningful Christian information (unlike some of the whack jobs that are out there). The subject of the message was "Prepared for Lent?" and contained an offer to order some biblical resource called Preaching the Word.

Now this is kind of like Papa John's sending me an email message about a buy one get one free pizza offer at 5:00 on a Friday night. The timing is right to tempt me just enough to consider it.

This offer feeds right into my Lent/Advent neediness. Every year around Lent and Advent time, I feel a very strong desire to find something out there for me to read or study or meditate on or bring me fully into the season. I want more meaning to the season than just leading up to the bigger holidays of Easter and Christmas.

But then I go searching for resources and (surprise, surprise) there aren't a lot of UU resources on Advent or Lent except the predictably academic "this is what Lent means for Christians" kind of thing. I'm not even sure if the UU Christians have any resources like what I want. (If anyone knows of any, please let me know.)

In my dream world here is what I am looking for: I would like a daily Lenten (or Advent at that time of year) devotional with prayers and meditation that speak to the significance of Jesus without the fundamentalist approach to things like a literal understanding of the resurrection or virgin birth. I want to center myself in the wisdom of Jesus' message without constantly shaking my head and saying, "yeah, but..." For the past three years I've looked around and tried different things, but so far I always end up disappointed.

And then I can't help ignore the thought that I'm always looking "out there" for the answers when I know that all the answers I need are ones I already have. I just need help tapping into them.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

These boots are made for walkin'

I went shopping today to spend my Christmas and birthday money and decided to really treat myself. You have to understand, I have a really hard time shopping for myself. Money is always so tight for us that I feel tremendous guilt whenever I buy anything for myself. When I do get money (gifts) I go to clearance racks so I can maximize the quantity I can buy for the money I've got. But today I went shopping with intent to treat myself. I deserve to have more than just clearance rack items all the time. I bought these boots today. They are so killer! I was a bit bothered by the fact that they were labeled "Junior" shoes as if one can't buy them if they're over 25 years old. Puh-leeze. I also got a new pair of jeans and a trendy turquoise sweater with collar and cuffs on the 3/4 length sleeves. The wisdom of Stacy London and Clinton Kelley (fashion gurus from my favorite show, TLC's What Not to Wear, which is on my current short list of favorite TV shows) kept running through my mind the whole time I was shopping. Live and learn, indeed.

I wore the whole outfit, boots included, out tonight. I felt really good and Little J said it was cool but weird that I looked like a modern mom. I do have to say that these 3 1/2" heels are taking some getting used to.


Friday, February 02, 2007

My Birthday Ritual

A few years ago I developed an annual birthday ritual to help me celebrate my birthday in a personal and meaningful way. Here's the blueprint:

As close to my actual birthday as possible, I set aside an afternoon for the ritual. It can take a couple of hours, so I like to have a large block of available time. I am alone at home with no kids (or when they were younger, kids were napping). I set my stereo to a smooth jazz station (soothing music with few lyrics which allows me easier reflection). Around my room I set out tealight candles in the number that equals my birthday. I tend to arrange them around the perimeter of the room so that I can sit in the middle of the circle created by the candles (surrounding myself with the light of my life, so to speak). Beginning at a chosen point, I begin to light each candle slowly and deliberately, reciting each year as I do (ex. 1967, 1968, etc.) As I light the candle, I pause and let my mind return to that year of my life. Obviously, the older I get, the longer this part takes. But I try not to rush and try to be mindful of each year. By the time I reach the current year, I have made a journey through my life to this point. The first time I did the ritual, after the candles were lit I pulled out photo albums and boxes of old photographs for a walk down memory lane. I haven't felt the need so much to do that in recent years. Anyway, with candles lit and music playing softly on the stereo I sit in the middle of the room and reflect on my life up to this point. Who are the people who have come into and gone out of my life? Where have I gone so far (physically, spiritually, mentally). What has led me to where I am today? Those types of questions.

Then I journal. I fill several pages with the thoughts that have come to me and I keep writing until I feel that all the words have come out. Looking around at the candles surrounding me, I feel at peace and accomplished.

I finish by celebrating with a special blend of coffee and a piece (or two or three) of one of my favorite indulgences: Philadelphia Cream Cheese Snack Bars in Marble Brownie. Approximately a billion calories per small bar, but I only do this once a year so I ignore the calories.

I haven't done my annual ritual yet this year. I've had scheduling difficulties. Little J has been home sick with bronchitis all week and even today (he's back in school) I have D home with me. And I haven't done my shopping for the snack bars, coffee, and extra tealights (I don't think I have 40 in the house).

But I have to admit that part of it is also that I am reluctant to focus so much on my past. Don't get me wrong, I definitely think it is important to reflect on my past as part of who I am and how I got here. But it shouldn't be the main focus, at least according to my current mindset. Maybe I can minimize the reflection and instead try to focus on what I still want to do with my life. I toyed around with the idea of writing a letter to my 50 year old self to be read 10 years from now. That might be interesting.

Yeah, I want to spend less time dwelling on the past. You know, people who walk around looking behind them all the time end up walking into an awful lot of walls.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Summer RE Programming

It is in the single digits outside and there is a layer of snow everywhere. I'm sitting here looking out onto the frozen cul-de-sac across the street while I'm stuck here at home with Little J who has the flu and bronchitis. What better time is there to work on summer RE programming.

Last year our church voted to become a Green Sanctuary church. With that in mind, the RE curriculum committee is preparing a nature awareness curriculum for this coming summer's grade K-6 RE program. We are using the book Hands-On Nature: Information and Activities for Exploring the Environment with Children by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. This is a lot of fun.

Today I am working on a couple of lessons about birds. Maybe I'll have a class meet outside on our campus and try to identify the different birds in the trees. That would be fun. Right now I'm imagining the cool green grass and the sun shining down in mid-July. We have lots of trees around our campus and I imagine them full of all kinds of birds. I wonder if I can get my hands on some binoculars.

We're also supposed to do a lesson about birds of prey (specifically owls). Even though it's a reality, I'm less excited about that one. Maybe I'll look for mythical owl stories to share with the kids. I know owls pop up a lot in mythical tales. 5yo D just came up and asked me, "Mom, why do owls have to eat mouses?" :-) Maybe that'd be a good discussion topic for the K-3 class.

Here only a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about how warm it still was, but now I can't wait for summer. I'm not a fan of the cold.