Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Admitting Failure and Starting Anew

Thank God.....I had an epiphany today about my ongoing writers' block on the book I'm writing.

I've been trying to write this lovely true-story collection about people whose lives are touched and even transformed by their local library. The reason I'm writing it is because too many life-in-the-fast-laners...which is most of us today.....rarely visit a public library. We're too busy, we buy what we need at Amazon, whatever the reason. Since we have no pressing need to visit the library and know few others who do, we instinctively believe that local public libraries are antiquated, slightly musty institutions for young children and idle seniors. Because of this pervasive attitude, funding for libraries has been radically reduced in recent years, resulting in cuts in hours, staff and resources.

That, of course, is far from true. Free public libraries are the foundations of democracy (free access to info), education (on anything, for everyone) and creativity (inspiration and resources).

I'm trying to recount true tales in lovely prose and soothing words that draw the reader irresistibly into each storyline. But...that's not my writing voice. I rarely write in "pretty" or "soothing."

I write with energy and insight, and I'm talented at cutting through the c**p, rather like a hot knife through butter. When I'm true to my inner voice, creativity and clever prose flows through me at an amazing pace (It comes from God, not me. It flows through me, not from me.) It's the way I write...it's the way I live life, too. It's an unfortunate family trait. (You should meet my brother. I'm the very soul of patience and tact compared to Jeff.)

So I'm frustrated and moving at a snail's pace with this book. It hangs over my head like a pregnant cloud. I feel pressured to meet my self-imposed deadlines. What I've written is good, by professional standards.....but it's very little. At this rate, it might take the rest of my natural life. And it bores me; I wouldn't read it.

So I guess I'll throw out what I have written, and start all over.

There....I said it. I admitted a false start. Black and white decision. I can do it...admit failure, throw out the old, start anew.

Why is this so hard?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blue & Gold Tradition

Their last second, heart-stopping victory tonight surprised me, and yet it didn't.

They've done it before, over the decades. Many times. It's in the Bruin blood. It's tradition.

And the mighty UCLA Bruins move closer to the Final Four...

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Morning Meditation with Gabriela

Thursday mornings have lately been devoted to delighting in my adorable 10-month-old granddaughter.

Today, she giggled in wide-eyed wonderment as I blew bubbles. She drank scads of pear juice and ate crackers. We watched a TV show she loves because they clap and cheer a lot. She claps along with them.

As she played with cracker crumbs, I watched her for a while ....... and thanked God for His gift of this precious child.

Studying her sweet face and trusting contentedness , I was reminded of Jesus' words in Mark 10:15: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

We Joined the Lutheran Church Today

Ron, Andrea and I became Lutherans today, as we joined a church that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It feels good to be in the right place. It feels good to be home.

The two primary pastors are Divine-designed ying and yang....one leads with his warm, warm heart supported by scripture, the other leads with his deep intellect supported by compassion. This congregation emphasizes Joy (with a capital "J"), unflinching inclusiveness, and above all, servant ministry to family and friends, to the strangers among us, and to our local and world communities. Ron and I couldn't feel more fed by the sermons, which are rich with meaning and message, humanity and humor, and God's Word.

But I've discovered something more on this journey to find and fit: the sacraments mean something. They are Holy.

Let me explain: Until 2000, I was a lifelong attender of Presbyterian churches, and a member of two from 1975 to 2000. It was my experience that baptism was a occasion for adorable babies, and that the Lord's Prayer and various creeds were recited rotely and without thought. The Gloria Patri was sung with boredom, and much of the music was akin to Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion" theme song. Parishioners argued incessantly over drums or no drums, casual or business casual dress, caffeinated or decaf, and endless what-not. (Trust me on the endless what-not...ordained as both an elder and deacon, I likely sat through a hundred or more meetings.)

In a word, it was joyless. It felt like God had left the building.

So in 2001, we went church-shopping, and stayed for four years at a new-style evangelical mega-church that our fifth grade daughter wanted to attend.

First let me say, the music was invariably delightful and moving beyond words. Many sermons were insightful, enjoyable and certainly biblical. And some wonderful, Godly people are members of the mega-church.

In four years, we never saw or heard of a baptism, which was considered a superficial. Communion was celebrated only a couple times yearly. And never once did we recite the Lord's Prayer or the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds. At first, this felt freeing. But after a while, I missed them. Then, I really missed them. And I knew that God was whispering to me....

MInistries to serve the poor, the homeless and the hungry were almost non-existent. Servant ministries meant doing work around the church for fellow attenders or staff, not for the outside community or world. Community outreach was defined as bringing or inviting others to attend this church. I once confided in a few that I was active in literacy programs at the local public library. Several were astonished (and a tad horrified) that I would give time to the public library rather than the church library.

I'll never forget the deliberate and rampant nepotism present in every aspect, every program, every decision, every single action of that church. It's an entirely different leadership model that I've ever seen or heard of in a church. The nepotism led to interpersonal dynamics completely foreign to my 50 years of church experiences. It led to cliques, intransparencies, vast insularity, and imperviousness to fresh ideas and flexibility. And it led to constant judgment of those outside the mega-church.

And then....my blood still boils about this....in Fall of 2004, the church allowed Focus on the Family-sponsored and legally-sanitized voter registration booths to operate outside the sanctuary after Sunday services. I kept my mouth shut....speaking up wouldn't change their actions, and would only make waves for my poor family. Conservative politics on the church steps, heartily approved by the pastors. They should've just hung a sign: Inclusiveness not practiced here. (Wait...maybe they did.)

The high school program to which Andrea was headed to was not.....healthy. She felt and knew that as strongly as we did. (I'll leave that one alone in this blog.)

While we dutifully completed our obligations, we carefully researched and called churches in the area, embarrassed to again be church-shopping.
In June 2005, when we attended Messiah Lutheran Church for the first time, we were promptly met by Pastor Ron, who chatted with us for a few minutes before service. We left with a CD of snazzy praise songs by some of the musical ministry team, smiles and cheery greetings from many, and a good feeling.

The Lords' Prayer is said with fervor each week, and the pastors don't appear bored. Communion is taken twice monthly, and it's a sacred time. Joy infuses worship, study, play and service. The Holy Spirit is present.

We know that churches are not perfect, and that pastors are fallible people, just like the rest of us. We know that programs can't be and aren't designed to suit just a few. (We've learned that Lutherans are not particuarly expressive during praise songs.) And we know that, like all living organizations, churches go through cycles of feast and famine, good times and bad.

We made a commitment today. We will be there, as God has called us there.

We are grateful and quite thrilled.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Christian. Heartfelt. Souldeep.

I have a confession that would be shameful in some circles.....I 've never listened much to U2's music. It's been more a question of time and effort than deliberate choice.

As I work and drive, my music preferences are light jazz, soothing classical notes and the occasional Christian praise tune. I do savor the music of some rock and pop artists. Carlos Santana. The poet laureate of my generation, Bob Dylan. R.E.M. The late, great, smooth Marvin Gaye. My secret 70s vice, John Denver and his love of Colorado and the environment. And, of course, my lifetime heroine, Joan Baez. (Framed and on my office wall is one of the original Apple"Think Different" ads with Joan Baez. Best ad campaign ever....) I admire an eclectic basket of musical artists.....I even like some hip-hop.

So I sit here writing, and listening to my daughter's U2 CDs....The Joshua Tree, All that You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Good stuff. Updated late sixties-style with flashes of Jim Morrison. Christian. Heartfelt. Souldeep.


(US Liberals at About.com)