Saturday, April 26, 2008

Some more thoughts on blogging...

A brief but opinionated interlude... Those who say that blogs are over and that they never really connected people anyhoo are so missing the point.

Granted, I know very little about science blogs and political blogs. But I do like music, mama, religion, food, photography, and craft blogs. And then there's Cute with Chris. If you have yet to dive into the Cute with Chris experience, you have a life that is less funny, but with more free time. He is RIDICULOUSLY addictive. I'm not even providing the link for fear of being held responsible for your exposure to him.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Connections. So I am looking over the visits to the blog this week to see which of you are faithful visitors and who is just a poser. (Kidding.) (...Sort of.) And I realize that I recognize little blots on the world map. Some are long-time friends who are keeping up with the blog because I am notoriously bad about keeping in touch. (My misguided motto: If I lose a limb or win the Pulitzer, I'll call!) But several are people I have come to know solely through blogging - writers, ministers, parents, fellow onion ring fans.

I found this incredibly heartwarming. We don't know each other in the historical sense of human knowing, and yet, we are connected. I am not selling you anything. You are not demanding anything of me. Thanks to blogs we get to peek inside each other's heads for a little while. Sometimes that experience is foreign, other times we nod knowingly. And more often than I ever would have believed, I find myself learning something about the world, other people, and what we value in life.

Although somewhat anonymous and without direct contact, blogs can teach us a thing or two on how to interact in person. Being ourselves, admitting what we care about, showing that our typing skills aren't primo... I believe that this can be a healthy and meaningful way of connection. Listening, sharing, wondering - aren't these are some of the best aspects of being human? We can all use daily tutorials in being better at being.

Another lesson or perhaps question that has come out of blogging for me: I can't help but wonder how much of the difficulties of human interaction are caused by our unconscious prejudices that are brought forth by our vision. How many of my un-met blog friends would have connected with me if they had run into the full six feet tall, oddly dressed and coiffed reality that is me in person?

I followed a blog for months thinking it was written by an African-Canadian woman. Imagine my surprise to find it was a Philippino man. Suddenly his ability to eat huge meals (he included photos) and beat all his male friends in tennis wasn't as exciting for me. I have wondered ever since what that says about me and how I relate to people.

Blogging has been a powerful connecting force not only with long-time pals and strangers - I would be missing the hugest influence in my blogging if I did not give a quick thanks to all the UUs who read this blog. You have offered me more in your responses than I can ever offer you with my thoughts. Thanks to you, I am able to go deeper in my own learning and teaching. Ours is a powerful connection in my life and I feel so fortunate.

Hmmm... I just read back over this and it sounds like I am about to retire or die or something. Really - I was just looking at the map and thinking. And for once the server didn't go down.

Word to my sister who is a recent Auspicious Jots reader. When are we doing karaoke again?


The eighth anniversary of my ordination is looming. Each year I try to reflect on what I thought ministry would be like vs. what it IS.

This year I have been bummed by my recent arthritis flare-up. I was diagnosed six years before I was ordained, so I knew it would affect my ministry. Luckily, this past month is the most it has had me down in years. But it is still taking some of the brightness and joy out of my reflections on life in ministry.

On a less gloomy note, I have been chuckling for over a week about a visual that says it all about a career in ministry compared to expectations of the ministerial student.

We have a lot of meetings in my partner in ministry's office. Behind her desk she has prominently hung her MDiv and her ordination papers. They are nicely framed, as are mine, and in almost the same place I have hung mine in my office. However, she has some wall space around them and she uses that space to hang her to-do post-its.

Some time in the last two weeks the to-do post-its snuck all the way up the wall and knocked both her MDiv and her ordination certificates crooked. To me the whole image is the perfect statement on what IS vs. what we thought WOULD BE.

I'm thinking in my office I may need to put some of the post-its directly on the certificates. It would make for an enlightening prioritizing process.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Healing at the Hermitage Grill

Anyone who tells you that there is no theological significance to be found in beer battered onion rings should not be trusted.

But first, today's update:

* My adorable physical therapist ripped both my arms off at the shoulder blades, scratched her back with my detached limbs, and then stuck them back on with duct tape. Or so it seemed to me.

* The ancient dog continues to go in the back yard, frolic, bark, rest, return inside, and poop at my feet.

* The other ancient dog is getting ideas.

* Toddler daughter asked a stranger in passing if he had a willie.

* 5 year old son played the board game "Life" at a bookstore after school. Proprietor of bookstore insisted that he could only marry a wife in the game, not a husband. My son protested the rest of the game by referring to her as "Stupid Wife."

*The doctor's office did not call back with test results.

Back to the onion rings.

My loyal readers and congregants know that my grandmother lives next door and has dementia. She has lost a lot of weight. She has also lost her nouns and most of her sense of humor. The weight seems to be the only thing we can help with. Today is one of my lunch days with her.

"Janie Belle, would you like to go to Shoney's or a little restaurant I like?" I holler at her. She has also lost one of her hearing aids.

Meanwhile I am thinking, "Why did I offer Shoney's? Why? Why? Why..."

"The little..."she stammers. Thank God.

We went to the Hermitage Grill (HG) off of Dumbarton in Lakeside. I have always liked the HG, but it is a tough place to go with kids so I don't get there much these days. It is small, occasionally packed, and occasionally noisy which adds up for too much risk when taking kids out- even though they like it. Why I thought this would work for a hungry grandma with dementia I do not know...

Except that it did. We arrived around 1 which meant the first shift had already eaten. Janie Belle managed to put a sentence together: There are only men here. She then smiled and even giggled a little.

She was able to point to what she wanted from the menu after I narrowed down the options: crabcake sandwich and onion rings. I got the chili and a salad.

You know, lunch isn't usually a magic meal for me. I eat lunch out often and I am also usually muti-tasking by having a meeting. Lunch is satisfying but not inspiring. With the exception of my birthday lunch, I don't go into the midday meal with my hopes lifted high. I just need to eat.

Except for today. Was it my gratitude that my arms had been re-attached? Was it that the male to female ratio was exactly to Janie Belle's liking and she wouldn't stop smiling about it? Was it the perfectly fresh veggies on the salad or the spicy but healthy chili? I don't know.

All I know is that I had eaten half my lunch and was feeling grateful for the restaurant, the small gathering of people at tables around us, the beautiful weather. I was relieved that grandma could talk a little and was chowing down on her crabcake. The pain I've been suffering from had abated just enough, and then she passed me an onion ring. I took one bite and I wanted to cry.

Here's my basic theology. There are very small pieces of perfection hidden in the chaos, pain, and harsh elements of our world. These tiny things are divine.

Reflections of divine? Evidence of divine presence? Demi-gods? Miracles? My goal is not to name them. My goal is not to overthink and tear them apart with my reason and logic. When I am lucky enough to stumble across one, my role in my own theology is to ...

Let myself be moved.
Share it with others.

I ate the onion ring. Not greasy. Still warm. And I could taste the beer in the batter. I looked at my grandmother. She looked at me. We both smiled. "Isn't that good?!" she asked. As clear as could be, she said it. If ours was a more miracle friendly religion, I'd be sending people to the Hermitage Grill for the healing power of the onion rings. They give the speechless words. They take away aches and pain.

As it is, let me just thank some old pals who are associated with the good old Hermitage Grill. Boys, that was the nicest lunch I've had in a long time. Thank you.

(For the record: The FDA has not approved the use of onion rings in the treatment of alzheimer's, dementia, or rheumatoid arthritis. Any benefits or side effects of onion rings have not been clinically proven. The Unitarian Universalist Association neither promotes nor rejects the divine properties of the Hermitage Grill, beer-battered onion rings, or removing a minister's arms.

The proprietors and staff of the Hermitage Grill do not promote the healing and mystical properties of their onion rings. They do, however, believe that you will never ever get another cold if you drink Jaegermeister. There are only four people on this planet who have convinced me to drink Jaegermeister. Three of them are connected to the HG. In light of the onion rings, I hereby forgive them for the Jaegermeister.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Grinning and Bearing

A friend sent me a joke email full of Jewish koans. I thought this one most appropriate:

If there's no such thing as the self, whose arthritis is this?

My upbeat sick woman moment of the day was: when the physical therapist was using her CIA sanctioned interrogation techniques on me, I pulled out my sneaky green beret response.

I knew a green beret 15 years ago. He went through the training (torment) to be a green beret twice: once as an enlisted man, once as an officer. The second time - he was in his thirties and had been a green beret for over a decade. He told me that when they were smacking him around in the resistance to torture portion, he just started laughing.

Today as the therapist did something to my neck that I was convinced would pull my head off, I giggled. When she stabbed me in the shoulder with the world's sharpest finger, I laughed. And when she pressed on my spine in such a way that I was sure was going to cause paralysis, I guffawed.

Remember this technique. We have a presidential election ahead of us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Still on sick leave

I have a twin. She's a blogging twin. I've never met her. Don't know her real name. I don't even know where she lives, and yet we are twins.

If you follow this blog you've seen her comments on mine. I'm linked to her blog. We are linked in a lot of ways. Her name is Lizard Eater. Lizard Eater is a mom, my age, studying to be a UU minister. She has Southern roots and laughs a lot. She makes me laugh a lot. Good twin to have.

Lizard Eater has four children. One of them is a cancer survivor. Her name is Little Warrior or LW. LW is sick again. Lizard Eater blogged through LW's last battle. She's not feeling great about blogging this one. But she is blogging a bit. It will rip your heart in two, but she has incredible courage to blog honestly. In that sense, we are not twins.

My last post was that I had brain laryngitis. That's a clever yet cowardly blog way of saying I am not well. I didn't want to blog it because I... I don't know. I guess I'd rather talk about other thngs that I think are more meaningful. But then I read about Lizard Eater's family and I feel like a twit. As scared as she is, she has the courage to tell the truth.

So... I am ill. I was diagnosed with arthritis at 24. Docs said it was bad, like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or its ilk. It was bad for several years and then, at 30 or so, it calmed down. Since the diagnosis wasn't real clear, my mind went into denial during those good years.

"Maybe they were wrong," I'd think. "Maybe it's gone. Maybe I remember it worse than it was. Maybe if I exercise more. Maybe, maybe."

Besides, I felt mostly good during those years. One thing that I forgot was that "mostly good" for me is "god-awful" for someone without arthritis. I had become used to pain every day. I am used to hard winters, nerve pain, awful mornings, and early bedtimes because I don't feel good.

I also know enough people with advanced RA, cancer, MS, heart disease, diabetes, and other terrible diseases that mine has seemed more of a vain bogeyman than a real diagnosis. I've always had a small part of me that felt that everyone else had real diseases and I just had pain. There's another part of me that only acknowledges life-threatening. "Stop the bellyaching! I'm still alive," I tell myself.

Then two weeks ago I started feeling really bad. Then I could barely walk. Then depressing test results started coming in. And I started taking meds that gave me brain laryngitis. And, well, it just hasn't gotten much better. There's also the ouch face. If you've seen me in April, you've seen the ouch face. It is the face that makes people think I am angry or just not very nice.

To all the kind people in my two congregations who have sent all their sweet thoughts, thank you. I am not good at accepting help for something like this. That's about my not wanting to be the center of attention and not wanting to acknowledge the ground I've lost. It is not that I don't believe in the power of your love and community.

We are a big community - 800 of us in the two churches combined. As minister, I can't help but think about all the people among us who deserve a card, a call, a lunch date, someone to listen, someone to say something kind and supportive. I am resistant to TLC because I worry about those who aren't getting enough. That's distressingly reverend-y, but it is what is pressing on my mind.

With the therapy, the medications, and rest I'll be feeling better in a week or two. Or six. I don't know. The long-term ramifications are serious, but I will follow medical advice to do what needs to be done. I am not up for blogging much on this because I find it depressing and uncomfortable(unless it will bring Dave Grohl or Patterson Hood to my house to sing me some get well songs). On the up side, I have been having crazy funny dreams on these meds. Lots of flying and dancing.

My love and friendship go out to Lizard Eater's family. Wherever you are, whomever you are - I wish you health and happiness, strength and laughter, raucous/beautiful/healthy children and all the miracles you need. I still want us to live next door to each other. I promise I'll never call the cops when the stereo blasts and I'll invite you to my kitchen cocktail parties (only room in the house that is presentable.) Shalom, sweet sister. Shalom.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Brain Laryngitis

A couple weeks ago I was whining about having no voice. Got that back. Now I have no thoughts. That's not right. I have thoughts, I just don't know how to say them. Wait. That's not it either. I say them and then I think,"That's not what I meant." Grrrr... see?

I think it is brain laryngitis. I'm out on sick leave until it clears up.