October 31, 2011
God and Thinking Part 2
I just did a really crazy thing. I signed up for NaNoRhyMo which is a month-long writing frenzy. You write about 1700 words a day for the month of November and end up with a novel. Thousands and thousands of people do this all over the world. You sign up and then you have to check in with your word count. Martin has done it about five times and has been on my back for years to follow suit. Even James and Nicole have done it (and are going to do it again this year). So, I just thought I'd better get this subject on my blog finished before I dive in. I haven't a clue what I'm going to write yet. I'm going to trust the spirit! So, here is the rest of the religion thing:
At the end of my college years, I didn't have a very good sense of what my belief system was. I knew I believed in God or a higher power that was benevolent. I believed that a man named Jesus was the kind of person that I wanted to follow -- but I didn't really believe that some of the wonderful stories surrounding his birth or death were physically true -- just that they were a sacred tale that heightened his connection to God written by faithful people long after his death. At the time I was reading Dostoevsky's, "The Brothers Karamazov, " and came across this quote that really spoke to me:
'If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth."
I didn't think that Christianity had a corner on the truth. The God I believed in had made a wonderful world full of diverse people and each religion probably had a part of the truth. But, if I were to pay attention to being the kind of person that I would like to be, I needed to stick to one pathway that spoke to me and that was Christianity. I could read and assimilate lots of ideas from different religions, but it was kind of like marriage -- you really needed to stick to one love of your life and keep it simple.
Don, still wanting to be ordained and still agnostic, chose Pacific School of Religion because it had students there from many different denominations which would make for great discussions. At first he wanted to be a campus minister and discuss religion with thinking college students. Until, that is, he became a pastor to youth in his second year and fell back in love with the church. The seminary was full of heady discussions about theology. The congregational church he served gave him a chance to reinterpret the precepts he had turned away from in his home church because of the narrow framework. And, he loved a community where people came together because of their faith and did wonderful things. He took that time to rebuild his faith.
All this had a profound effect on me. At first I was following the pathway of his belief system. Although his faith was deeper than mine, although he had a deeper understanding of philosophy and theology, I found that I could mostly go along with what he was learning and what he believed. I do remember a couple of times that I disagreed and felt pretty smug that I was smart enough to argue any theological position with him. He also was much braver than I. He loved to visit really different kinds of churches to understand their worship. I was always afraid he'd stray off the beaten path and wanted to hold him in the pew so he wouldn't go to a raucous altar call or start leaping around and speaking in tongues.
The Congregational Church, and then the United Church of Christ, fit our common belief system. It was welcoming and affirming. Members were on a theological journey with each other, each being in their own space but promising to walk together to find whatever truth they could find. For me, it didn't have pat answers to hard questions. For Don, it was all about responding to what we have been freely given. Worship was keeping oneself connected to God and knowing God's Will for us. Sometimes I missed the drama of the Episcopal Church where communion is served weekly and where there seems to be more of mystery surrounding faith. I liked that -- but I liked the inclusiveness and opennes of the UCC.
I am a better person because of church. Without it, I would be completely self absorbed. I do not believe that I have a full grasp of the ultimate truth. I suppose there may, or may not, be anything beyond this world. But, I have seen wonderful things in people who are saints, wonderful things happen in religious communities, wonderful acts of healing and belief, I have lived with a person whose faith made a difference in his life, and I believe that faith makes a difference in mine. So, like Dostoevsky, I choose Christ to follow as best I can.
October 27, 2011
I Feel British...
I'm in Redmond in a cute little apartment being the "adult" consult for my two granddaughters who otherwise can really take care of themselves while their parents are on a church choir trip to Peru. Jeni, Ron, Allie and Nicole have moved to two apartments on the edge of the bike trail through the city (and across from the Redmond mall) after selling their big house with too many acres to tend for a busy family. They are awaiting the purchase of the next place, but after partaking of their simplified life style, they may change their mind. No, probably not.
I've done a bit of school pickup, a bit of nudging at 6:00 a.m. and otherwise have stayed in my little place on my computer or reading or doing crosswords. It's a bit of a vacation. Of course, I can do the same things at home but it is very hard to do when household chores get in the way--especially now when I'm trying to move forward on painting my dining and living room. I've had a few little fascinations here. I had difficulty locating the source of heat and it was chilly when I arrived. I found the heat in the bedroom and turned it on (thinking maybe it heated all the rooms). Silly me! I soon found the other thermostat (right in front of my face) for the living room. By then the bedroom was too warm to sleep in. I soon found that it is too hot with the heat on and a bit chilly with the heat off. That itself might drive Jeni to a house. Not Ron -- he doesn't like heat anyway! Now, all I have to do is find a toaster and the right server for the internet (although the upstairs apartment server seems to work just fine).
The most fun is going to places that I like around Redmond. I had coffee this morning at Jeni's favorite place (and also a Croissant since I couldn't find a toaster). At noon I went to my favorite Redmond restaurant -- the British Pantry. I'm sure I'm the only one in my family who cares about going. It is so very British. Dark wood and comfort food only. Nothing gourmet. The most curious people eating -- they all look very stereotypical British -- mostly dowdy and usually late middle to old age with their cardigans and woolens drinking tea from pots. The only young people are with their grandparents. The waitresses are old, slow, and methodical. But, I still love it. It reminds me of my mother.
Today I had the Tues/Thursday special -- bangers and mash. Yum! Their tea is also lovely. But, you can't get little sandwiches or scones unless it is after 2:30. However, you can only get bangers and mash until 2:30. On the weekends I think they have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. But, I've never been there on a weekend. I've also never been there without having to wait. I don't know if that is the slowness of the waitresses or if they are really always full. It's really a hoot!
Some things in life just give me a chuckle. The British Pantry also has a bakery/deli attached and a large selection of teas, tea china and other goods from the British Isles. I'll post a picture. I wish I had thought of pictures before I ate the bangers and mash! But, I only thought of pictures as I was leaving the place. I usually buy some pasties to take home, but I need to wait until tomorrow so they don't sit long in my car. I probably don't have to return to the British Pantry for several months. Even with all the extras, it can't match my sweet Abbey Garden Tea Room for fresh food, good salads, wonderful tea selection and waitresses that can hear.
October 26, 2011
God and Thinking
Thinking about Robin Meyers lectures has me musing about my own religious journey. It began when I was about 6 or 7 and my British mother took me and my two sisters to the little Episcopal church in our town. She and my dad had been married in a little chapel nearby, but for some reason she chose the other church. She actually enrolled us in Sunday School, but I don't remember her ever staying. Maybe she did that first day. I do clearly remember my class.
The church was a charming "country-like" wooden structure and my small class (probably about 8 children) was up a long, dark and narrow stairway to a little room on top. The teacher talked about symbols of the church (which I probably wouldn't have remembered) and then walked us down after the service was over to see the baptismal font and the altar and other things she had been talking about. I was mesmerized. I had been to my younger cousins' baptisms. It was meaningful to actually understand what we were doing on those family gatherings with the priest on a Sunday afternoon without benefit of the congregation. It certainly caused a spark somewhere down deep because I continued going to that church long after my sisters quit until I was confirmed at 13. Then, my mother got upset because the confirmation class was taught how to do confession. My mother said that was "too Catholic" and wouldn't let me participate. I told the priest who took me into the confessional first and then let me go out the back door (so the other children would not see - and maybe want to bail). It was my first glimpse into unholy religion -- a priest who was devious!
The next few years are a blur. I quit going to the church, but I remember being in the 6th grade and watching some Jr. High girls walking by the fence. They called to me. I remembered them from my old Sunday School class. They were now going to the chapel on the hill (my mother was not the only one who didn't like a "high church") and they invited me to join them sometime. I never did. My next venture was Mormonism. My childhood friend, Barbara, invited me at the end of high school to visit her church. I loved the Friday night dances with families participating. I invited even more friends and attended services for a few years on and off. Four of the friends I invited ended up joining the Mormon Church, and all have raised their families Mormon and have been Bishops and Missionaries. In fact, my old boyfriend George and his wife Jeanette are now the Bishop and wife of the large temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have told them they should make me a saint for everything the church has received from my converts.
I didn't join the Mormon Church because the answers were too pat for me. In Sunday School we were encouraged to ask questions (for the "correct" answers to be shared) but not question the answers. However, I loved the family atmosphere, the expectation of shared wealth (even the poor families tithed) and the way families took care of each other. That seemed like a holy thing to do. I also liked the admonition to be careful what you put in your bodies - and I think healthy eating and moderate drinking has always stemmed from those days listening to Mormons testimonials about the evils of drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
In college, I joined my Pasadena City College choral conductor's church choir at the Pasadena Disciples of Christ Church. His wife and I enjoyed singing together and teasing David behind the scenes. The preacher told great stories, and we had a good time singing together for a few years until I went off to Occidental College and met Don. I was expected to take a Biblical Literature class which was a requirement and, contrary to many who were devout Presbyterians, I loved it. I had so little background in the Bible, that it did not squelch any tightly held beliefs. At the same time, I had a boyfriend that wanted to be a pastor but thought he was an agnostic. Wow! Talk about a time when discussing religion was a heady adventure! I had learned about church by attending three distinctly different congregations. I wasn't sure exactly what I did believe, but I knew what I didn't believe. I also knew I enjoyed going to church. In fact, I knew that church was important to me somewhere deep within my psyche. I often just felt like home.
The next few years will find me involved in a religious journey with my husband that has formed most of my ideas as an adult. But, I'll leave the next chapter to another day.
October 24, 2011
What a Weekend!
When you live a fairly quiet life, you sometimes wonder how you worked full time and kept all the balls in the air. I had one of those interesting weeks when all the things I do seemed to converge and I was busy juggling from morning to night. I had minutes to write, agendas to organize, emails to disseminate, research to finish, people to talk to, and my coffee table was full of piles here and there. I was mighty glad that my church meeting was over on Thursday evening and I could join my lovely friends for dinner at the Green's house on Friday. But the piece de resistance came this weekend.
Saturday was Donel's birthday so I thought it was fitting to go to church to hear a couple of lectures by theologian Robin Meyers, a UCC pastor whose book, "Saving Jesus From the Church," is a fascinating read somewhat akin to my Biblical literature class in college. He talks about what is authentically Jesus in the Bible (or, at least, the oldest authentic writings) to what has probably been added for political reasons over the following centuries (and therefore probably not actually what Jesus said). His first lecture was about preaching and I believe he would have gotten high points from Don. One of his tenants is that preachers must preach from their own wrestling with the scriptures because that would be most viable for the congregation.
I remember a time after a Sunday sermon when I said to my husband, "I hope so-and-so was listening today because I think that sermon would have helped her." He got annoyed with me, and said, "I don't preach to people for their benefit, I preach to what is concerning me in the scripture or what I am working through. You need to listen for yourself, not think about what others need." Wow! I never forgot that. I guess I maybe thought that he used sermons to give wisdom to others, not that he was seeking it for himself. Robin Meyers says that this process helps parishioners to learn vicariously while they are listening to what the preacher is working out. I enjoyed stretching my mind on Saturday morning and again when Robin preached on Sunday morning.
On Sunday afternoon, I attended the Skagit Valley opera production of Tosca and was literally blown away. A friend, Dick Little, was in the chorus and had sent invitations around to people he thought would enjoy the show. Also, Katie's husband, Steve, played the Sacristan so I knew at least two people in the opera. Keith and Eulalah had tickets so Marilyn G. and I joined them in traveling to McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon, and am I glad I did! It was an amazing production that had me both in tears and shivering with the sheer power and beauty of the voices. Marilyn G. has attended the Seattle opera for years and she, also, was surprised by the quality of the voices and the orchestra and staging. We went to a pre-show talk with the manager and stage director. The McIntyre is not as large as the Mt. Baker and the sight lines and sound is amazing. There were no mics, but the voices were loud. We were in the third row of the balcony and they had the translation of the lyrics projected above the curtain in a perfect place for those of us looking down on the action. We were excited at the end of the show when the manager said they had engaged the same singers for another opera in February. We will definitely go.
So, the use of my brain and touching of my heart on the weekend more than made up for the frenzy before. Sometimes I forget to feed my brain and often feed my heart by accident! I must remember to be more intentional because it makes a difference to my quality of life. I do wish, however, that grand opera wasn't so darn tragic in the end!
October 16, 2011
Walking Boulevard Park
I have fallen madly in love with walking Boulevard Park. This was Jeni's favorite park when we moved to Bellingham, and she was ecstatic when her bedroom window looked south and she could catch a glimpse of the park as well as hear the bands that played there in the summertime. When Don was ill, our family walked Boulevard Park many times. One of our favorite family pictures was taken by one of the big rocks. I began walking the length of the park about five weeks ago and have continued from 3-5 times a week. I found that it is 1.48 miles on my pedometer which is just short of a half hour either next to or over the waters of Bellingham Bay. Since Dani introduced me to the world of podcasts, I do this walking while listening to a variety of author interviews, story tellers, or people discussing various issues. I have become a podcast maven! I can listen in the car through my radio speakers or with earphones as I walk. I love it.
I don't always walk at the same time, but I often see people I know walking dogs or just sauntering down the path. So far, I have found the weather very accommodating. Even if it rains in the morning, it is often sunny for an afternoon walk. I promise myself to walk as often as possible. So, a few times I have been out running errands or having lunch with someone, and I simply stop at the park on my way home. Or, I go down deliberately in the morning and walk around 10:00 before much else happens in my life. It is getting so that I yearn to be down at the park. If I miss it, I feel deprived. I'm drawn to the water like a dowsing rod. I will stop and look over the side of the bridge to see the eddys and whirlpools below. One day, I found a young man swimming along next to the bridge I was walking. Now, remember, this is NOT Southern California. This water is COLD! He looked up and I asked why he wasn't freezing. He said, he was warm enough, and he swam the length of one of the bridges and got out to walk back to his transportation. I know it was icy cold, but he didn't look any worse for the wear. During the summer, high school and college students often dive off the end of the boat launch -- but they don't usually swim long stretches without wet suits.
I don't know how this will all work out during the winter, but I do remember walking the park with Don one New Year's day, and it seemed like all of Bellingham had the same idea. Babies were wrapped tightly against the icy air and parents were pushing the strollers and chatting away. So, maybe I can keep this going with a really good jacket and warm sox! You know that I am in training for Hong Kong where I will be the last two weeks of November. I will have to take the ferry to Lamma Island (where Dani, Charles, James, and Nico reside) and walk to their house. Any trips we take will involve walking (according to James who was warning me about the trip) so I'd better be in good shape. Of course, my doctor has warned me that walking will definitely cause my arthritic right knee to get more and more painful, but I am not yet deterred.
I've noticed two things that change daily on my walks. The first is that somedays I walk briskly and somedays I trudge. Sometimes I wonder if I will make it around the park and other days I could do it more than once. I don't know what makes a difference, but I have noticed I'm less energetic in the late afternoons. The other thing that changes daily is the water. Most days it is clear, but it can also be muddy. Some days there are whitecaps on the bay, and others not. Sometimes the tide is up and sometimes it is low and you can see many more rocks. It is nice to be reminded that life is never static and it ebbs and flows in wonderful ways.
October 14, 2011
There is nothing more fun than learning. I get a thrill every time that I learn something new, find an increased understanding of a problem, have an "aha" moment. I loved watching my own children grow and learn the ways of the world. I remember being so ready for Dani grow up and learn more and more and a bit less anxious for Jeni and Martin to tumble through the various stages. I guess I realized that I was too excited for Dani always to take the next step in the future whereas, over time I wanted to slow that wonderful process down for her siblings -- to keep them from growing so darn fast. Well, that was a long time ago. I can say, without equivocation, that watching grandchildren is a whole new ballgame. I am much more able to just sit back and watch in awe. I am not trying to push forward or hold back. I can sit in the bleachers and shout "rah, rah" for every little step of the way.
All this brings me to having the joy of watching yet one more little baby in our family push his way through to being his own self. This weekend, I watched Lionel scuttle up flights of stairs as if there were great treasures to be found at the top. I watched him go from taking a few steps between close objects to standing up from a sitting position in the middle of nowhere and walking several steps to an object of desire. I watched him go from deciding he could actually sit on Nico's big red toy truck. Then he fell backwards on the floor when he was off balance. But soon found that he could tip himself backwards until he almost fell and right the truck again before disaster struck.. He did this proudly over and over again. I watched him deciding that walking the hallway between the living room and front door was not worth the effort when he could crawl faster. I watched him decide that riding the family rocking horse was really fun, then figure out that he could rock it by himself, then find that he could even get on and off the horse by himself. I watched him get angry and cry huge flowing tears when I (gently) said "No No, Lionel" to him opening the cabinet door and playing with the buttons on the sound system. I watched him struggle to open Uncle Charles's guitar case because he really wanted to strum the strings on the hidden guitar. I watched him stand on tiptoes to play the piano. I listened to him point and say light! I heard him also say hot, truck (many times), daddy, momma, and several other words that mostly sounded like momma. I watched him walk a good stretch of Boulevard Park holding on to his daddy's finger. In other words, I watched the growth of awareness, the discovery of the world, and the sheer determination to succeed in this little, tiny explorer.
What a joy! I didn't need for him to get up to walk the whole hallway or to put all those words in a sentence. I didn't need to squeeze him tightly and hope he didn't grow up too soon. I was just content to see where Lionel is in his 14th month of his incredible life. He is a lad who loves books, is curious, and has a distinct sunny personality. He is my youngest grandchild, and I love him dearly. And, I thank his parents for including me in his remarkable journey.