Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Dandelion


This morning being Saturday, I was awakened not by the alarm clock but by the sun shining through the window onto my bed. As our little Simone shifted from where she lay sleeping by my feet to better capture some of the sun's rays on her fur, something in which she delights, she unintentionally nudged me awake. Opening my eyes, I caught sight of, then focused on, a newly blooming dandelion. Ah, the dandelion!

Consider the dandelion: most gardeners work out to remove it from lawns and wherever else it may grow. (It likes to grow and spreads readily, as we all know.) We don't really welcome the dandelion.

Think, however, of the dandelion from a more positive point of view. The dandelion is a perennial; it always returns. Its long, lance-like leaves are toothed; hence, the name (Old French: dent-de-lion, or tooth of the lion). Now, that is some protection from those who would weed it out, literally. While we have generally developed a negative attitude toward the tooth of the lion, that tooth provides us with so much, not the least of which is an example of how God has fashioned nature to provide for all needs.

Beauty, nurture for the aesthetic part of us. Yes, though we may not welcome the dandelion, most of us do find it pretty.

Alimentation, nurture for the physical part of us. The leaves can add special flavor to our salads or be cooked as greens, like spinach, for a vegetable meal. The root, too, can feed us like any other tubular root. Then, of course, there is dandelion wine that provides just a tad more to our diet than simple alimentation. Dandelions are good for our health and have more vitamins and nutrients than any cultivated plant: betacarotene, calcium, iron, vitamins B, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin P, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, insulin, and zinc. It improves the functioning of the liver, kidneys, spleen, stomach, pancreas, bladder, and intestings. Dandelion tea, here I come!

The tenacity of the dandelion bespeaks its delicateness. Those little white flying feathers that are left over when the yellow is gone scatter everywhere on the wings of the wind to share the next generation of dandelions with neighbors and owners alike.

Nature is, indeed, awesome. The multiple uses of the plants that God has given to us, as I described a while back in a post on the walnut tree at our previous residence, continues to amaze me!

Memorial Day 2011: Life after War

I would invite readers to go to the following article, written by a member of Give an Hour. It tells the poignant story of a war veteran, hopelessly lost to drugs and despair, trapped in post-traumatic stress disorder and with few resources to help (most petered out before she could recover). The story seemed too appropriate for Memorial Day, just observed yesterday, not to share. However, since it seems to be copyrighted, I have decided simply to include the link and urge you to take the time to follow the link and read the story; you won't regret it. You can find it here: I Served My Country...and Wound Up Living in My Car The veteran is Jennifer Crane; the author is Lynn Harris. If you can help GAH through a donation or through spreading the world, you will involve yourself in a very worthy cause. Visit the GAH website for more information.

Monday Morning Meditation #81: God Keeps His Promises

Let me begin the morning by wishing everyone a happy Memorial Day. This is one holiday I can never forget because my daughter, Noelle, was born on the real Memorial Day (May 30), which falls on the same day as the Monday observation this year, a rarity. Of course, not being used to the celebration being on the real day, I somehow became confused and the family ending up celebrating Noelle's birthday a day early -- and she did not say a word until afterward! (I wonder if she got confused, too.)

This week I read through Jeremiah until I reached Chapter 35, which sent me scurrying to research sources, as well as to Jewish scholars who are friends of mine. In this chapter, God tells Jeremiah to invite the Rechabites, a tribe living at that time in Jerusalem, to wine and dine with him. The Rechabites, who had come to avoid the armies of Chaldea and Aram (Syria), were a nomadic people, following the original practices of Israel and the dictates of Jonadab, son of Rechab, the father of their tribe:
3. We do not drink wine," they said to me: "Jonadab, Rechab's son, our father, forbade us in these words: 'Neither you nor your children shall ever drink wine. Build no house and sow no seed; neither plant nor own a vineyard. You shall dwell in tents all your life, so that you may live long on the earth where you are wayfarers.' Now we have heeded Jonadab, Rechab's son, our father, in all his prohibitions. All our lives we have not drunk wine, neither we, nor our wives, nor our sons, nor our daughters. We build no houses to live in; we own no vineyards or fields or crops, and we live in tents; we obediently do everything our father Jonadab commanded us.
The reason God had asked Jeremiah to tempt the Rechabites in this way was to point out how well they obeyed in comparison to the rebellious Israelites who were about to be led into captivity for their unwillingness to do the same. As a reward for their faithfulness, God promised that there would "always be a Rechabite standing in service to Him."

Reading: Jeremiah 35.

Meditation: When we read this chapter recently in our Bible Studies group (my reading of Jeremiah has corresponded the past couple of months with our Bible Studies, which has been quite exciting and certainly mathemagenic), questions were raised as to whether God had kept His promise. After all, where do the Rechabites live today? No one calls themselves by that name.

The description of the lifestyle of the Rechabites, however, reminded me of the Bedouin tribe I had lived with in Jordan: they raised goats, planted no crops, drank no wine, lived in tents, and were devoted to Allah (God). I wondered whether they could be the descendants of the Rechabites and set out to do some research, as I mentioned above. What I learned did not surprise me: the Bedouin tribes in the area of the Dead Sea (near where I was living a few years ago and not all that far from where they were living in Jeremiah's time) trace their ancestry to Jonadab, son of Rechab. In addition, there are supposedly a few people living in Yemen, not far from where the tribe with whom Jeremiah spoke had come from, who consider themselves descendants of the Rechabites. So, yes, it would appear that God did keep His promise. (Could there have been any doubt?)

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to thank God for always keeping His promises, to repent for any time I have been rebellious, to ask for more opportunities to learn obedience, and to praise God for the ways in which He shows His faithfulness to us. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Spiritual Sunday #23: Fishes and Loaves for Columbia

For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and Ginger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath, a practice started by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about. The one that came to mind today chronicled my early experiences with Padre (Fr.) Julio, who recently came up from San Diego to bless our new home. If you have read posts over the past couple of years about Padre Julio, then the first post might be of interest -- and it contains what seems like a bona fide miracle, to boot. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday -- well, whatever is left of it!

Spiritual Sunday #22: On Being Worthy

For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and Ginger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath, a practice started by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about. The one that I flitted across today as I perused earlier posts was On Being Worthy. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday -- well, whatever is left of it!

Monday Morning Meditation #79: Pay People Fairly

I have landed in Yorktown, Virginia and am awaiting a colleague to arrive who is more skilled at technology than I am since everything I have touched this weekend has fallen apart -- including my blackberry, which means I cannot communicate with anyone at work except by laptop (i.e. when I am somewhere where I can use the big, clunky thing, which I guess I will have to carry around everywhere with me now). I can use my iPhone for getting personal email, but business email is supposed to come via our vpn and blackberries. Oh, well, I am getting settled in and will start preparing for my Tuesday presentation at a major conference with nearly 200 people in my "individualized" training session. Oh, the topic? Use of technology in education and training!!!!!!

At least, reading Jeremiah draws me away from my tech woes. No tech there! Ah, to return to such a lifestyle. On the other hand, no way would I want to have been Jeremiah. All those negative messages he had to deliver...!

One of the many messages delivered by Jeremiah that I read this week was one that struck home big time:
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.
Reading: Jeremiah 22:13

Meditation: I once worked, not all that long ago, for an Egyptian mogul who called himself Dr. Abdullah. I say "called himself" because he held only a bachelor's degree. However, thanks to infusing large amounts of money into various educational institutions with which he formed partnerships that provided him with immense profit (yet was able to maintain accreditation and non-profit status because the institutions themselves were accredited). Because the institutions were located in the Middle East and American accreditors were afraid to travel so close to war zones and anti-American areas, they simply extended the accreditation of the home institution to the Middle Eastern campus without nary a visit. Dr. Abdullah happily provided all the paperwork requested although little of it reflected the reality.

I was thrown into that mix when I was hired as a senior administrator. I watched in alarm and sadness as Dr. Abdullah, prone to tantrums, would, for no apparent reason fire one person or another who crossed him, usually inadvertently. As for paying a fair wage -- the unfair wages Dr. Abdullah paid were a minor problem compared to the fact that sometimes he made faculty wait 3-4 months to receive their pay. That was one area in which I took him on -- and won -- when I arrived.

Another area, in which I quickly became embroiled, was the fact that no bookstore would order books for our students because Dr. Abdullah owed them so much money. Although he seemed to be rolling in dough, to use the popular expression, and was, at least, living high on the hog, to use another, he simply did not pay his creditors, moving from one to another until finally, in the case of books, he ran out of any store willing to serve our students. The last semester I worked for Dr. Abdullah as the senior administrator I purchased $30K worth of books for our students because no bookseller would give Dr. Abdullah credit. Dr. Abdullah promised to pay me back, but he never did. I ultimately gave up, writing him a letter, telling him that if his conscience ever poked him, he could give the money he owed me to a local charity for children that was desperately in need of funding. He never did; apparently, a conscience was not within him.

The verse in Jeremiah struck me because of a communication I received in relation to Dr. Abdullah. After I left his institution and moved on to better work, I would pray for him. I had no desire by then to be reimbursed or compensated for anything. I was simply concerned about his soul. If Jeremiah 22:13 is to be taken to heart, then Dr. Abdullah certainly needs prayer. However, one evening while praying for Dr. Abdullah, I heard the words, "Do not pray for that man."

Those words shocked me, and I had no idea how to respond. I never received any further clarification, but I did stop praying for him. I told a friend who is a pastor, and she said that she would pray for him instead of me. I have not heard from her whether she received any similar communication. Why would God not want me to pray for Dr. Abdullah? I have wondered about that for nearly five years. Now, reading what was said to Jeremiah, I am beginning to understand. Woe, I fear, awaits Dr. Abdullah. I feel terribly sorry for him although he is one of the richest people I know and seems to lack for nothing he wants in this life.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to thank God for not granting me everything my family members or I might want, to promise to treat all God's people fairly, to repent for any time I have expected unfair "labor" (in the broadest sense of that word), and to ask for more opportunities to serve God and His people. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Spiritual Sunday #21: The Alabaster Jar

For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and Ginger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath, a practice started by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about. The one that I flitted across today as I perused earlier posts was The Alabaster Jar. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday! (Unfortunately, I will have anything but a peaceful Sunday. I have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to catch a series of planes to take me from California to Virginia to a conference, where the presentation I am to give is highly technical -- and for which I do NOT feel ready.)

This Is Priceless

That is the title of the enote I received yesterday morning, and it really is accurate. It started my day with such a laugh (perhaps because I am a manager and train many subordinate managers) that I felt it was one of the Internet stories that really does warrant sharing. I hope you enjoy it!
If you've ever worked for a boss who reacts before getting the facts and thinking things through, you will love this!

Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO. The new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"

A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?"

The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."

Feeling pretty good about himself, the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?"

From across the room a voice said,

"Pizza delivery guy from Domino's."

Spiritual Sunday #19:Things Aren't Always What They Seem

For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and Ginger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about. Since I was picked up in the middle of last night at the airport in Doha by a guy named Angel, I thought it would be appropriate to share another angel story: Things Are Not Always What They Seem. I hope you will enjoy the story.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday, which should just be dawning for most of you. I am already far into the day, having journeyed the past two days to the farthest point in the Middle East: Qatar. I have tracked down the Mass times for today and am looking forward to going to a chapel on the desert military base where I am this evening. (One advantage to traveling is that I get to see a lot of different churches and hear a lot of different priests giving a lot of different homilies. The liturgy, regardless of location and language, is the same. That is one of the things I like about the Catholic Church: you feel at home wherever you are.)

Monday Morning Meditation #75: What Happens When We Ignore God

I am continuing to read the Book of Jeremiah both at home on my own and in our Bible Studies class, a great coincidence of effort. I am starting to get to know Jeremiah, the prophet and the man, much better, and in getting to know him, I am beginning to develop a good deal of empathy for me. Goodness, what a difficult time of it he had! The messages he was asked to deliver were quite alarming ones and certainly not designed to increase his popularity. This week I spent time reading through the messages of Jeremiah 2. These messages can be summarized briefly as (1) God was previously pleased with Israel because of Israel's devotion to and love of God; (2) God expresses hurt because Israel moved away from God, not being grateful for previous assistance and not basing their new beliefs on anything except superstition and convenient falsehood; and (3) God, in anger, will punish Israel as much because Israel has turned away as because Israel has the audacity to say that it has not sinned when it has. The passage is powerful and rich. I suggest taking a look at it in its entirety, which is too long to include here.

Reading: Jeremiah 2.

Meditation: This passage is as applicable to us today as it was in the days of Jeremiah -- at least, for me it hits home. I think it must be especially poignant for converts, like me. Initially, in coming to faith, there is such a strong relationship with God, so strong and compelling that living every day in such close communion changes the whole nature of one's life. With time, it becomes easier to take God for granted, and I thank God every time that I get a tap on the shoulder reminding not to do that. It is equally easy to justify the things we do as "okay" when they might be just a tad off -- a little too self-interested, a little less humble than we should be, a little too much time on "fun" activities when being with God is just as much "fun."

What struck me more than anything else is something that I, and perhaps others, think about too little. How does God feel when we stray and sin? We know how we feel, and perhaps we fear God's punishment for doing so although God has shown over and over that forgiveness and love are more likely than punishment so coming back to God is something we should look forward to and not fear. I find the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be a very comforting and motivating one in that respect. That God prefers to help us, love us, drawn us into His arms is clear from every prophet He has ever sent mankind. I am grateful for the prophet, Jeremiah, because through him God has shared with us an insight into these loving and caring traits, even His ability to be hurt by us.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to repent for those too-many times I have caused pain to God, to praise God for the incredible depth of His love, to thank God for giving me every chance to repent and try to avoid hurting Him again, and to ask Him not to give up on me even if I am a slow learner and ornery at times. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Spiritual Sunday #20: Friends Are God's Way of Taking Care of Us

For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifGinger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath, a practice started by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about. Since I seem to be on a run with angel stories, let me share yet another: Friends Are God's Way of Taking Care of Us. I hope you will enjoy the story.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday!

Sabbath Sunday #31: A Day Off?

Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) has made the suggestion that we "rest" on the Sabbath by taking a break from our normal blogging and sharing an older post of which we are particularly fond. Rest? Gladly! I don't get to do that very often, but now, thanks to Fr. Christian, I get to do it at least once a week -- and it gives me more time to spend with God, which is a wonderful gift.

For this week, I selected a fun little thing, A Day Off? A Matter of Definition!

Have a restful and peaceful Sabbath!

And God Said "No"

The teenagers in my First Year Confirmation religious education class often come with a chip on their shoulders toward God. It nearly always come from what they perceive as unanswered prayers. They have yet to realize that "no," "wait," and "let's substitute an answer other than what you specifically asked for" are all answers to prayer.

In explanation of what appear to be "no" answers, I suggest the following possibilities:

(1) sometimes if God were to give us what we ask for, God would be interfering with, walking back, or setting aside the system of free will and genetic selection that He put into action centuries ago;

(2) God's love for us is separate from what God does for us and so our love for God should not be contingent upon whether He answers our prayers the way we expect or at all;

(3) sometimes we do not see the answer to prayer because it was not the one we expected;

(4) sometimes what we ask for is not in our best interest (good parents also say "no" to their children when kids ask for something that is bad for them or dangerous).

Sometimes these explanations work. Other times, though, a teenager is really angry at God about something bad that has happened that he/she believes that God should have prevented. Last year, for example, one lost a cousin and the other a classmate in car accidents. They wanted to know why God "took" or "killed" their relative and friend. Obviously, God did not go out and kill these chldren. They were taking risks and lost; God simply did not intervene.

So, readers, what have been your experiences? How have you explained such things to your own children, or, if you are a catechist, to the children you teach? I would love to have additional insights.

Today's Drama

Ah, Saturday! Yes, I can sleep in! I rolled into bed rather late last night, or more accurately, early this morning, secure in the knowledge that I could get an unusual full night's sleep. Well, no, apparently. Just a few hours later, a ringing intruded into my dreams, whatever they were, and soon I was emerging into the not-yet-daylight. Fumbling for the alarm I had forgotten to turn off, I finally realized that it was the phone ringing--just as the caller hung up. I turned on the light and saw that it was Lizzie (my daughter) and Blaine (the young man we had raised from teenage years who ultimately became Lizzie's husband and our son/son-in-law), calling from Illinois.

Lizzie and Blaine! Something must be terribly wrong because they never call; they always send an enote. By now, Donnie was awake, as well, and called them back. Blaine answered. Yes, something was terribly wrong. His cousin, Alana, had just reached him. Her husband had arrived home drunk and had beaten her to the point that she had difficulty walking and was in pain. She needed some place to stay for the day and perhaps night while she was sorting through her options.

We made arrangements for her to be dropped off near our mission church. In a plan reminiscent of my experiences in eluding the KGB during the Cold War days in Moscow, I walked up as the taxi dropped off Alana and all the possessions she had been able to pack in a hurry while her husband was out of the house. She had to leave behind her beloved bike. (I suggested to her that she not give that a second thought. After all, bikes can be replaced; people cannot.) She did manage to bring a favorite cactus house plant and four suitcases of clothing and other possessions. We waited on the sidewalk until the taxi disappeared, and then I called Donnie who had been parked out of sight nearby. He drove up, and we put all the possessions and a very traumatized Alana into the car, then, learning that she had not had breakfast, had her pick out what she wanted at the local deli. We returned an hour later for pain medication. (I am probably the only mother in the entire country who raised seven children and never seemed to need an aspirin for them or for myself! Someone should give the condition a name: HPTS, as in High Pain Threshold Syndrome.)

At our house, she made some calls, often tearfully. Finally, a plan emerged to stay overnight for a few days with a cousin in northern California and then move in with her mother in Nevada, in order to begin to put her life back together and to shake her husband (hopefully, about to become her ex) off the trail. We drove her to her cousin's house this evening. It was a two-hour trip one-way, and we have just returned with sore bottoms from four hours of car-seat-sitting. We think the calluses-to-appear were for a good cause.

I tried to get her to see a doctor because the bruises and limp were obvious. She did not want to do that. I also tried to get her to turn her husband into the police; battery in California is mandatory imprisonment. She did not want to do that, either. Since she did not know us (but she knows several of our children), accepting guidance from me was not a natural thing to do. I left her with the story of my sister, Victoria, who kept going back to a husband who beat her, blaming herself for "pushing his buttons," until the day that he took a knife to her. Then, after the police jailed him, she divorced him and raised her two sons, happily, as a single mother. I take hope in the fact that after our discussion, Alana asked to borrow the computer and researched battered-wife sites. That was a reasonable, unemotional thing to do in response to a very emotional experience.

Some things are slow to change, however, or so it seems. Women are still blaming themselves for abuse. They are still afraid to tell doctors what has happened for fear it will make them look bad or be embarrassing. They are also afraid to pursue their beaters and molesters legally for fear that when they get out of jail, they will look up the person who put them in and beat them even harder. Somehow, women and we as a nation, not just those who comprise the group of the abused, have to learn to face down those who act in base ways and just stop the beatings, not with temerity but with reasoned courage. (See my post on abuse.)

Fortunately, unlike many other women in similar circumstances, Alana has a support system--the cousins, friends, mother, father. I have to hope that this will make the difference that will keep her from returning to an abusive situation.

After we dropped Alana off this evening, I said a prayer for her. She will need God's love in order to accept herself as a lovable person, and she will need God to give her strength as she takes one new step after another toward a saner and safer environment. I will continue to pray for her in the days ahead, and I ask anyone reading this blog to add her and all abused women and children to your prayer list.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Plant

Another goodie from the Internet sent to me by my brother. I have no idea where he finds these!As for this and other stories like it, I find that I can always use them at work for leadership training. Certainly, anyone who has been in a leadership position has had parallel kinds of things happen as happened with the retiring CEO and the young managers. As a leader, I always look for the Jims -- I don't find them as often as I would like.

A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business.

Instead of choosing one of his Directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together.

He said, "It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you." The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued. "I am going to give each one of you a SEED today - one very special SEED. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO."

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed.He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow.

Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.

By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn't have a plant and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by -- still nothing in Jim's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn't say anything to his colleagues, however, he just kept watering and fertilizing the soil - He so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection.

Jim told his wife that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful -- in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him!

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.

Jim just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the CEO. "Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!"

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the Financial Director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, "The CEO knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!"

When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed - Jim told him the story.

The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, "Behold your next Chief Executive Officer! His name is Jim!"

Jim couldn't believe it. Jim couldn't even grow his seed.

"How could he be the new CEO?" the others said.

Then the CEO said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!"


* If you plant honesty, you will reap trust.

* If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.

* If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.

* If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment.

* If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective.

* If you plant hard work, you will reap success.

* If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.


So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.

Monday Morning Meditation #77: Is God Unfair?

This week I continued to read the Book of Jeremiah, where I came across a complaint of Jeremiah that is not unlike the complaint that many believers make today. Why, asks Jeremiah, do the unrighteous prosper while the righteous suffer? Is that not, indeed, unfair? Should it not be the other way around? Should not the righteous prosper and the unrighteous suffer? Would that not make it easier for all to to believe? Should we not expect God to be fair, to reward "good" people with a "good" life?

God provides an answer to Jeremiah, perhaps not entirely the response we might have expected:
14 This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
15 But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country.
16 And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.
17 But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD.
Reading: Jeremiah 12: 14-17.

Meditation: When I was an atheist, I never gave much thought to what was fair and not fair. To me, as Charles Sykes once said in an op-ed piece (San Diego Union-Tribune, September 19, 1996), "Life is not fair; get used to it." I was used to it, and I never compared my life to the life of others. Were I to have done so, I would have considered some to be luckier than I and others to be less lucky.

After coming to faith, I encountered many discussions on the "fairness" of God, including books such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Rabbi Harold Kushner) and 21 Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People (Dave Early). And then there are my catechism kids who think that God should protect them and all God's people from any harm or difficulty or suffering and allow them to surf through life on the wings of the wind with nary a feather, uh, hair, ruffled. The aforementioned books try to provide logical counter arguments to my catechism kids' assumptions. To some extent, my kids buy the arguments; to some extent they do not.

The source of my catechism kids' difficulties in accepting the bad things that happen to them is their comparison with others' lives. They expect life to be fair in the sense that good reaps good and bad reaps bad. They don't want to believe the line from Star Trek in which Mr. Spock tells Dr. McCoy, "In a test of good and evil, evil can win unless good is very, very careful."

In a world of free will, there is bound to be good and evil. And where there is evil, there is bound to be evil that triumphs over good if one judges a good life by material goods, career success, power, and prestigious relationships. That is not, however, how God judges success, and it certainly is not the model of a good life that Jesus showed to us -- or any of the saints, for that matter.

None of those things matter to me. I still do not compare my life to that of others. I don't care about the Joneses. They have their life; I have mine. My life has been full of what others might consider suffering: an abusive childhood, children and grandchildren with birth defects, career ups and downs, a considerable amount of poverty throughout my childhood and much of my adult life. Nonetheless, I have traveled the world (often with only $20 in my pocket) and have been able to contribute to improvements in the lives of children in many places. I have had a good life for a good life is not necessarily an easy life, a luxurious life, or a fair life.

And thank God, that it is never too late to recognize the source of our help and support. Thank God for God's grace and mercy even to those who have perpetrated evil against us, for we, too, are all in need of God's grace and mercy. Thank God that God is willing to bring back anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness and that He will set the foreigner who believes in Him among us for most of us were once those foreigners whom He established among His people. Exemplifying God's compassion should be our goal, not crying to Him that life is not fair or that His willingness to forgive people even at the moment of their last breath is not fair. It is fair -- and kind.

On January 30, 2000, Fr. John Claypool gave a radio homily called "Life Isn't Fair, Thank God!" That homily is a wonderfully clear explanation of why what appears fair and unfair to us may be very different from God's definition of fair, which is based on charity (in both senses of that word). Here is the ending to that homily:
"There is an old rabbinic parable about a farmer that had two sons. As soon as they were old enough to walk, he took them to the fields and he taught them everything that he knew about growing crops and raising animals. When he got too old to work, the two boys took over the chores of the farm and when the father died, they had found their working together so meaningful that they decided to keep their partnership. So each brother contributed what he could and during every harvest season, they would divide equally what they had corporately produced. Across the years the elder brother never married, stayed an old bachelor. The younger brother did marry and had eight wonderful children. Some years later when they were having a wonderful harvest, the old bachelor brother thought to himself one night, "My brother has ten mouths to feed. I only have one. He really needs more of his harvest than I do, but I know he is much too fair to renegotiate. I know what I'll do. In the dead of the night when he is already asleep, I'll take some of what I have put in my barn and I'll slip it over into his barn to help him feed his children.

At the very time he was thinking down that line, the younger brother was thinking to himself, "God has given me these wonderful children. My brother hasn't been so fortunate. He really needs more of this harvest for his old age than I do, but I know him. He's much too fair. He'll never renegotiate. I know what I'll do. In the dead of the night when he's asleep, I'll take some of what I've put in my barn and slip it over into his barn." And so one night when the moon was full, as you may have already anticipated, those two brothers came face to face, each on a mission of generosity. The old rabbi said that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, a gentle rain began to fall. You know what it was? God weeping for joy because two of his children had gotten the point. Two of his children had come to realize that generosity is the deepest characteristic of the holy and because we are made in God's image, our being generous is the secret to our joy as well. Life is not fair, thank God! It's not fair because it's rooted in grace."
Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to thank God that my life has not been fair for I would have found far less learning and far fewer rewards in a fair life. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Monday Morning Meditation #76: God Is Faithful

As I sat down to prepare this Monday morning's meditation, I noticed that I have not posted anything since last Monday in spite of having a computer at my beck and call now. There was, however, a small inconvenience that has made posting difficult: I fell at work (four-point splat in front of a couple dozen people) and injured my dominant hand. At first, it appeared to be broken, but the x-rays showed that not to be the case. It was just a really bad contusion, but it made my hand swell up beyond usefulness, accompanied by no strength that sidelined me and made me another workers' comp statistic. (The safety officer was among the witnesses.) It is still difficult to type, but this, too, shall pass. As for the Bible, I continued to read the Book of Jeremiah.

This week I spent time reading through the messages of Jeremiah 3. What stood out for me was the passage in which God says that He will not be angry with Israel (or, by analogy, with us) forever. All Israel has to do is confess her guilt for "I am faithful."

Reading: Jeremiah 3: 11-13.

Meditation: The first thing that came to my mind in reading this passage is the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation that I discovered in coming to faith and becoming Catholic. Of course, we can all repent and tell God directly that we are sorry for our unfaithfulness to Him. There is something seemingly more solemn and sacred when sharing the nature of the unfaithfulness with a servant of God, one of His priests. There is also the added benefit of getting some additional insight into the situations of our daily life that lead us astray. As many fellow penitents have said to me as we have stood in line, waiting our turn for confession, "This is the best therapy in the world -- and, to think, it is free!"

Our mission will be offering bilingual a reconciliation service tonight. As in past years, I anticipate that there will be only a few dozen of us there. There are many reasons that people offer for not taking advantage of the opportunity our parish gives us (among those being, of course, regular reconciliation hours during the week are also available). I am grateful that the parish continues to offer these services at Christmas and Easter (as well as weekly) in spite of low attendance for I want to do as God has asked: confess my guilt. Certainly, I am not without guilt as much as I would like to be guiltless.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to prepare for reconciliation tonight. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

A Little Boy's Explanation of God

Another gem from the Internet:

This was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista, CA. He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to "explain God." Could anyone have done as well?

EXPLANATION OF GOD:
One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

God's second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So, you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.

Atheists are people who don't believe in God. I don't think there are any in Chula Vista. At least, there aren't any who come to our church.

Jesus is God's Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn't want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn't know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.

His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn't have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.

You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.

You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God!

Don't skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn't come out at the beach until noon anyway.

If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He's around you when you're scared, in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.

But...you shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.


And...that's why I believe in God.


I wonder if an adult could have come up with a better explanation!

The picture above is available as an oil painting from this website: Mike Ivey.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

From Blest Atheist to Blessed Believer

I have been come across a number of thoughtful blogs in recent days written by people who have left the church to find another path to God. All of them express cogent reasons for this. For example, Barb (A Former Leader's Journey) describes a painful discernment process that led her away from her role as a leader in a church that moved from mainstream into a pecking-order organized group that demanded conformity. Alex (Oikos Community) proposes the concept of an "organic" church (a term coined by T. Austin-Sparks), i.e. "a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs." And D (Loving Jesus, Leaving Church) tells of growing up as a pastor's child, serving the church in many capacities, and ultimately becoming so busy with church that, in her opinion, she lost out on a relationship with Jesus.

In some ways, I can relate to these complaints and disaffections. As a teenage atheist forced to attend church by an abusive family (not abusive because of the church thing but scandalously physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive), I managed to get my entire family permanently expelled from our local Baptist Church. An award-winning public speaker in high school, I was asked to give the sermon on Youth Sunday, to which I agreed as long as I could write my own, not read someone else's. My sermon pointed out many of the things that those critical of the church have written in various blogs, as well as the specific "sins" of our church leaders such as which deacon was sleeping with someone else's wife and the like, and ended with the challenge to the parents in the congregation to be honest about life and raise their children in an atheist home. It was a small Maine community of 500 farm and village folk. You can imagine the uproar! It has never been forgotten and that was 40 years ago!

Now, brought to God by God, I find myself in another small community, this time in California. Our small town has only 1700 people, at least 60% of which are children. Everyone knows everyone. We have no fast food joints, no malls or upscale stores, no doctors or vets (those are 10 miles away), no theaters, no roller rinks, and no youth activities (except catechism classes, which are filled to the brim perhaps in part because they are the only activity in town). We do have two small grocery stores, one on each side of town (within walking distance of each other), a one-room city hall, a one-truck fire department, one part-time sheriff, two statues (both commemorating saints, one of which the town is named for), an elementary school, and, among the outlying ranches, a regional high school. More essential to the nature and being of our town, in addition to several blocks of historic buildings maintained for the public by the state, is the mission, built in the expansive arches-and-garden tradition of the Mexican missions founded in California. Connected to the mission, in addition to the church and cemetery, is a monastery, convent, and Franciscan retreat center (which is also home to our Secular Franciscan Order), all very humble-looking places that contain vibrant life. Masses are held daily, and in more than 200 years this town has never missed a mass or been without a priest, which may be surprising when one considers that we have three kinds of masses: modern mass in the vernacular (English), Mexican style in Spanish (almost everyone here speaks Spanish), and high and low mass in Latin. It may be less surprising if one knows how blessed this tiny, historic community is with priests. We have four priests right now: a Franciscan mystic (always ready to interpret my spiritual "events" for me), a pre-Vatican II traditionalist, a post-Vatican II ecumenicalist from Ireland, and an immigrant from Spain (who, when necessary, is substituted by a fifth, visiting, priest from Colombia). Our priests range from young 30s to young 80s. Plus, we have some additional priests at the monastery and retreat center who step in, as needed. Perhaps because we have so many priests and so many different approaches to worship, there is an understanding that one's relationship with God is not dependent upon any particular clergyman but is a personal matter. For that reason, I have found a home in the church, not outside it, and in this town, which a Russian Orthodox visitor called "namolein" (soaked in prayer). Visitors do feel a special connectedness with the divine here. I consider myself extremely blessed to have become situated in this town, something that was a bit of an accident (if one wants to believe that it was really an accident). I would also note from my experience here that there can be good church experiences as well as bad ones.

Not long ago I read a joke, not sure where, probably on the Internet. It went something like this:

A man showed up at a fancy city church, dressed in jeans, dirt-encrusted boots, and a cowboy shirt. He would have fit right in with our local congregation, but at this church, where everyone was dressed in fancy clothes, he stood out. After the service, one of the deacons welcomed him and suggested that if he were to come again, he might consider dressing more appropriately. The man appeared the next Sunday, dressed the same way. The deacon spoke to him again and this time suggested that he discuss his dress code with God. The man came a third Sunday, dressed the same way. After the service, the deacon asked in exasperated tones whether the visitor had discussed his attire with God. The visitor responded, "Well, yes I did, but God did not know how to advise me. He said He does not come to this church!"

I know that God comes to our mission church. His presence is profoundly felt there by just about anyone in the congregation, including visitors. But then, given that many of them are ranchers, our parishioners are very apt to show up in jeans and cowboy boots!

I love my parish. The people are, in general, rather poor, but that is not uncomfortable for me. After all, I have spent most of my life in the Land of Splat! (although I have to admit that God has been very kind to me in recent days, and I have approached Splat!'s very border). Moreover, the priests here have considerably enriched my life. (I will write about them in another post because, for sure, they have been a gift from God.)

The other side of the matter is that I struggle with the spirituality vs. faith split. Yes, I admit that there does not need to be a split, but I see one frequently, and those living by faith and dogma, at least in my experience, far outnumber those experiencing spirituality. I find myself yearning for the company of people who have had the kinds of spiritual experiences that the desert fathers describe and that I encounter from somewhat frequently.

I would love to hear from others who have had good experiences with church for I believe that God wants His people to commune with him with each other ("where two are together..."), and a good church, it seems to me, is a great place to start. Further, do you sense a split between faith and spirituality within your church or am I being overly sensitive (and perhaps even greedy) in desiring the company of contemporary Saint Theresas of Avila and Saint Johns of the Cross?

Thankful Thursday #18

Thoughts of gratitude on this Thursday.



1. I will sing a song of praise unto the Lord that I have a bed to sleep in, one that is hard to give rest to my broken-in-1980 back and a small layer of tempurpedic foam that cradles the rest of my body just right so that my entire body can sleep peacefully and soundly. I thank Him for the His open arms each night that let me fall asleep in Him and with Him, dreaming only the pleasantest of dreams. I will ask Him to help all others learn to rest in Him. I will continue to gather and give whatever I can for those who have no such bed and to praise for those who do not know that they can have such arms around them.

2. I will sing a song of praise to the Lord that when I awake, after a short period of contemplation -- wish it could be longer -- I have a body, even though physically broken 30 years ago -- that allows me to do any physical activity, including morning gymnastics that I need to do -- and should do more often than I actually do -- to stay in shape. I will thank God for taking care of my body when I forget to do so -- which is far too often. I will ask Him to remind me to take better care of this physical body which in truth is His, not mine. I will make the effort to remember that I owe Him the effort to exercise and eat properly.

3.I will sing a song of praise to the Lord for hot water, soap, and a shower, even a bath included, that I can clean up before going to work. I will thank Him that I live in a country where utilities are mostly routinely available, and I will continue to ask Him to help those in third-world countries, especially those in places like Afghanistan, torn apart by war that makes even their naturally impoverished and undeveloped conditions more so. I will gather and send -- and where possible, take -- supplies and help to the people of these areas.

4. I will sing a song of praise to the Lord for my breakfast of cereal and milk, all I dare to eat in the morning and maintain a healthy weight. I will thank the Lord that I do have cereal and milk and, were I to desire it, a more lavish banquet. I will ask the Lord to provide food -- and prompt others to provide food -- for those without, especially during the holiday season but also during those other seasons where people do not remember them as easily. I will continue to blog about their needs on my Hungry and Homeless blog, and I will continue to help agencies and churches that give to them, as well as using God's credit card to help them whenever they appear in front of me.

5. I will sing a song of praise to the Lord for the clothes that I will put on every day after shower and breakfast, good clothes that I can wear to work without embarrassment even though I refuse to spend money on anything designer or expensive for that money would better serve the Lord by being used to help those who can afford no clothes at all. I will ask the Lord to put those in front of me and thank Him for His credit card that allows me to help them regardless of what is in my pocket book at the moment. I will continue to help each one that He sends.

6. I will sing a song of praise to the Lord for my work, where I am about to head. I will thank Him that I have a job when so many others do not and that I have wonderful, collaborative, loving, and bonded employees for the most part. I will ask Him to guide me daily in how I serve these employees as their supervisor. I will continue to bring God, God's influence, and God's love into the workplace -- without giving preference to any religion (my workplace is full of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, along with some other forms of worshiping God) and into all that I do and in that help those who already belong to Him and perhaps by example lead those who do not yet know they belong to Him back to the fold in a way similar to the one in which He brought me back home.

7. I will sing a song of praise for this day that the Lord has made. I will thank Him for whatever weather He sends our way -- every season has its beauty. I will ask Him to spend every minute of this day with me, and then I will ask Him to spend every minute of this day with you. I will enjoy what He has given me, no matter what shape it takes.

Blessings to you this Thankful Thursday!


More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Women Taking a Stand. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month. This month the host is Lynn at Spiritually Unequal Marriage.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

When Someone Kicks You, Still Your Leg

I thought I might share, this sleepy Saturday, a vignette I just posted on Mahlou Musings. Here it is:

When someone kicks you, kicking back is not always the answer. Sometimes it seems that a nice swift kick, especially in a vulnerable spot, would garner a wonderful feeling. However, holding one's leg back from doing what it wants to do sometimes ends with even better results than any amount of revenge would have brought. In short, don't get mad, and don't get even: get what you want.

In my own life, I have written three doctoral dissertations in order to finally finish one doctoral degree. For one fabricated reason after another, my department chair did not accept the first two. (Rumor told me that he blamed me for his not being hired at the institute where I worked and had told one of the other graduate students that I would finish my degree only over his dead body -- a rumor that appeared to be true at face value although he would not state something like this publicly and I never cared enough to expend the effort to confirm the details. Since I was a slow learner, apparently, it took two dissertations for me to realize that perhaps the rumor was true and at the very least something was wrong.) I could have sued the university, had I had the inclination, money, and energy, and I might have won. I could have taken on the chair in other ways, but I did not. I chose to move on from a painful situation, still the leg that wanted to kick back, make my career through competent work and publication, and wait for serendipity to help with the dissertation and degree issue.

Many people along the way offered to help, and that made me feel validated. The department chair of another department at the same university wrote me a note of encouragement, suggesting that I complete the degree elsewhere and let her know when I could put the initials behind my name; that comment kept me going for years, and I was able eventually to let her know that she could, indeed, use those initials.

Colleagues treated me as if I had "punched" the dissertation ticket, and I have not been held back in my career. In fact, I would not trade my career for any other. For that reason, too, I have not felt the need for revenge. As for the dissertations I wrote, they proved useful in other ways -- another reason for not taking revenge.

The first dissertation topic was quite esoteric. I received a couple of fellowships to conduct the research for it in Siberia during the height of the Cold War, a time when Americans did not go to Siberia, least of all for research. I not only went there, but also I took my oldest daughter, Lizzie, with me. Through the years, the Siberian connection has been of professional and personal value. I have many friends there, have provided much consultation there, and was able to bring a child artist from there to the United States for medical treatment. If I had not worked on that dissertation, none of those connections would have been made. Besides, I made a conference presentation and published an article on the dissertation.

The second dissertation topic was less exciting, but it helped me land a dream job in my specialty, a job that most people get only at the end of their careers but which I got at the beginning of mine. Although my advisor never read the dissertation, it has been published piecemeal as several articles, presented at numerous conferences, and cited in the works of others. That is better than revenge.

The best outcome was that the trajectory of the kick landed me in an extraordinary position much later. I have now completed a third dissertation, this in in Russia, at a university that is better respected than my original university. Had either of the other two dissertations been read and processed, I would not have been eligible to do the later degree. Perhaps thanks to my earlier negative experience, I appreciated all the more the comment that was made by the department chair in Russia at the end of my dissertation pre-defense: "We don't know why you need us, but we feel fortunate that you came to us."

----

Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blest Guest Wednesday #7: Pandita Ramabai, Indian Christian Liberator of Women

From time to time, it is difficult for me to post regularly, given my crazy travel schedule, which you can follow, if you have such a liking, in the Twitterlets. I have been able to bring a little sanity to the blogging part of my life by asking for help. Some wonderful fellow bloggers have been willing to write guest posts for me on Wednesdays, hence the name "Blest Guest Wednesday."

As today's "Blest Guest," Amrita from India (Yesu Garden) contributes Part 2 of her presentation of saints from India with a female saint, Pandita Ramabai.

PANDITA RAMABAI: INDIAN CHRISTIAN LIBERATOR OF WOMEN

" A strong woman is a woman who is determined to do something others are determined not be done." These words by Marge Piercy describe Pandita Ramabai, who was born in an era in which women were oppressed and thought to be genetically inferior to men. She turned out to be a liberator of Indian women, an educator and crusader for the girl child.

Here is a short sketch on her life taken from Robert Ellsberg book:

"All Saints:Daily Reflections on Saints , Prophets,and Witnesses from our Time".

"People must not only hear about the kingdom of God but must see it in actual operation, on a small scale perhaps and in imperfect form, but a real demonstration nevertheless."
Pandita Ramabai, a poet, scholar, and champion of the rights of women, has been acclaimed as a "mother of modern India." In her own time, she struggled hard, as a Christian convert, to define her own identity and spiritual path, in the process drawing criticism from Hindus and fellow Christians alike. She remains an intriguing example of the effort to bridge the spiritual traditions of the East and West; both sides felt the challenge posed by this courageous and independent woman.

Ramabai was born in Karnataka (South India) in 1858. She was the daughter of a wealthy Brahmin scholar and his much younger wife. Though her father was a devout and orthodox Hindu, he scandalized his high-caste friends by teaching his wife and later his daughters to read the Sanskrit classics. This talent later stood Ramabai well when her family perished during a great famine. At the age of sixteen, Ramabai walked across India, visiting the holy Hindu shrines and attracting astonished audiences to her recitation of Sanskrit poetry. Her knowledge of Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism, eventually won her fame and honor. She was given the honorific title "Pandita," mistress of wisdom.

Soon Ramabai had become the leading advocate for the rights and welfare of women in India.

She married at the age of twenty-two, but her husband died of cholera after only sixteen months, leaving her alone with an infant daughter, Manorama. Her travels in India and now her present circumstances sensitized her to the bleak plight of widows and orphans. The practice among higher castes of betrothing young girls to much older men (her own mother had been nine, her father over forty, at the time of their marriage) had contributed to the vast number of widows, women without status or protection. Ramabai set out to do something about this social problem, establishing centers for widows and orphans in Poona and later Bombay, where the women were given basic education and training in marketable skills. Soon Ramabai had become the leading advocate for the rights and welfare of women in India.

Her work brought her into contact with Christian missionaries. In 1883, she accepted an invitation by a congregation of Anglican nuns to visit England. For some time, Ramabai had felt a distance from her Hindu upbringing, both on spiritual grounds and on the basis of her perception of the status of women in India. While in England, she undertook a serious study of the Bible and eventually asked to be baptized.

The gospel of Christ represented for her the purest expression of her own spiritual intuitions, in particular her growing belief that to serve women and the poor was a religious and not simply a social work.

News of her conversion provoked angry public controversy in India. Ramabai herself wrestled with her strong aversion to the cultural imperialism of foreign missionaries in India. She was determined that becoming a Christian should not be construed as a denial of her Indian culture and roots. The gospel of Christ represented for her the purest expression of her own spiritual intuitions, in particular her growing belief that to serve women and the poor was a religious and not simply a social work.

She returned to India and continued her charitable work, among other things founding a center for unwed mothers, a program for famine relief, and a series of schools for poor girls. Now, ironically, it was her fellow Christians who became her public critics. They charged that because she made no effort to convert the poor women in her centers her own conversion was only superficial. They also pressed for proof of her doctrinal orthodoxy. Ramabai refused to be drawn into theological or confessional debates. "I am, it is true, a member of the Church of Christ, but I am not bound to accept every word that falls down from the lips of priests or bishops.... I have just with great efforts freed myself from the yoke of the Indian priestly tribe, so I am not at present willing to place myself under another similar yoke."

...she learned that the heart of true religion was the love of God and the love of one's neighbor as oneself.

Ramabai criticized the profusion of Christian denominations, a fact, she believed, that was bewildering to the poor. The spirit of Christ as reflected in the Bible sufficed to satisfy her own religious questions. From that source, she learned that the heart of true religion was the love of God and the love of one's neighbor as oneself. That she live by this creed, she insisted, was all that anyone had a right to ask of her. In later years, she prayed not for the conversion of Hindus but for the conversion of Indian Christians.

She died on April 5, 1922, at the age of sixty-four.

Professor A.B.Shah, a member of the State Board for Literature and Culture for the Government of Maharashtra, writes :

Pandita Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922) was the greatest woman produced by Modern India and one of the greatest Indians in all history. Her achievements as a champion of women's education and social reform remain unrivaled even after a lapse of nearly a century since she first appeared on the scene. She was a Sanskirt scholar who at the age of twenty was publicly honored by the Shastris of Calcutta as a Pandita and a modern incarnation of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. She was the first to introduce the kindergarten system of education in India. Most important of all, she was the first to rebel against the inhuman slavery to which widows were subjected in society and to lay the foundation of a movement for women's liberation in India.

You can visit the Ramabai Mukti Mission website HERE. You can get upon request a free copy of Pandita Ramabai’s biography authored by Nicol MacNicol and my author friend Vishal Mangalwadi.

- Amrita from India

Amazing Power of Prayer

Marvels of marvels and miracles of miracles, something happened this morning that I never thought I would see. Never. Because I did not have as much faith as I should have had.

Donnie and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary on March 20. Complications, however, have arisen in celebrating it. First, March 20 is the only time that the university students in Lithuania can do the review session for the course I taught there the last two weeks, and they need one. Moreover, March 21 is the only day that they can take their final. Given the 10-hour difference between our countries and the plan to have the students do the final review over Skype and the final (monitored by the department chair) in the computer lab, emailing me immediately their answers, my presence is required in both instances in the late evening hours, ending at midnight. So, while I can be free during the day, I need to be at home, with the proper computer equipment at night. Any plans that Donnie and I would have liked to have had to take a trip (we have dreamed of a special trip for our 40th anniversary for some time, entertaining a number of different exotic locations, among which it had been difficult to choose) cannot be accomplished on the actual date. Second, with Shane unemployed, I would prefer to use trip money to pay the next unseen number of months of his COBRA fees, which at $800 a month are well beyond his ability to pay on unemployment compensation, and provide smaller amounts to help with the kids and food. (His umemployment amount covers his rent only.)

So, seeing that our local St. Francis Retreat Center, which is no more than five minutes up the hill from our house, is offering a two-day retreat on Franciscan spirituality March 20-21, I decided to sign up for it. Donnie has agreed to come! We will try to sneak away on the evening of March 20, during the dinner hour, for a private anniversary dinner at our favorite local restaurant.

The process leading to this decision began when Donnie returned from Jordan, an atheist as I had always been, to find that I had had a remarkable conversion experience and was now pretty dedicated to following in the path of Christ and obeying God at all costs. It was not the kind of thing one emails to one's spouse of 30+ years or relates on a phone. So, I had waited until he had completed his contract there, which ended eight months after mine, and then, when he arrived back in California, I shared with him all that had happened.

To say that he was in shock would be an understatement. For nearly a week, he could not even speak to me. He would look at me and mutter, "I cannot get my head around it."

Doah, on the other hand, was delighted. He had been a believer perhaps before he was even born. Who knows, given his significant retardation, what and how his beliefs were formed, but he always exhibited them. However, from the time that he could speak, he evinced not only strong belief but strong connection with God, saying things like "God told me" X or Y. One weekend soon after Donnie came home, Doah was in the car with us, driving to a nearby city for grocery shopping, and spontaneously said a prayer that momentarily got Donnie's attention, "Dear God, Thank you for bringing Mom to You, but You forgot about Dad."

Unfortunately, the effect was minimal and shorter than temporary. I wondered what would reach Donnie, and I knew that he was not the type to be pushed. Moreover, he was still in shock. I had been such an outspoken atheist.

A few months later, a friend visited from Nebraska. We spent every evening walking around Old Mission grounds, a little of it together but most of it separately praying and communing with God. It was during that time that I started begging God to help with Donnie and was told that eventually he would come to believe but that first I must frequently pray with him.

Pray with an atheist? I knew how that would have gone over with me, and I had a pretty good idea how that would go over with Donnie. Nonetheless, convinced that this was the path that God had chosen to bring Donnie to Him, at our very next breakfast together, I insisted that we say grace together. We have continued that pattern for two years now. I have also upon occasion, as I sensed his atheism turning into agnosticism, asked him to say grace (just in case), and he has acquiesced.

Then, last spring my torn rotator cuff was healed instantly during Mass. Doah was there and sensed the same presence on the kneeler with us that I felt touch my arm. When I returned and showed Donnie the totally free movement I had in my arm that had been impossible to move than 30 degrees before I went to Mass, he was again shocked. With the healing confirmed five days later by MRI, his agnosticism began to turn toward a "just in case, perhaps-perhaps not" kind of potentially emerging belief.

Still, he has been unwilling to step closer. I go to Mass alone or with Doah, Noelle, or Lemony (my daughter-in-law who was gladly my sponsor), when they are visiting, or even sometimes with a friend.

Nonetheless, Donnie has spent time with Fr. Ed and Fr. Barry, when they have come for a family or other event. They don't push him, either, and I try to follow their model of just being an example. I have also tried to be steadfast in praying for him and, as God urged, with him, relying on God to take care of the rest.

And so today, I am the one in shock, pleasant shock. (The shock pricks me, though, in thinking that had I had greater faith, there would be NO shock. Nonetheless, I am happy, indeed. Yes! A spiritual weekend together! What better anniversary gift could there be?A