Thursday, August 24, 2006

Healthy Boundaries

Tonight we were talking about healthy boundaries, and I guess that covers everything from backyard fences to “Would you please take your hand off my shoulder?” to not feeling guilty when someone you love makes a mistake. Some boundaries require discussion and agreement; some boundaries should be assumed. You don’t touch a person unless you know your touch is welcome AND touching is not a harmful act. You do talk about how to handle finances and come to an agreement. “Pay me back when you can” is not a healthy boundary for most people.

When I was younger I borrowed money from my mother with little intention of paying it back. She didn’t ask for terms and conditions; she just handed me the money. However, she kept track of all those “loans” down to the penny, and, when she was angry with me, she brought up my debts. Finally, we talked about money and agreed that I could ask for money, she could give it or not, but the money would be a gift, not a loan. Of course, the week she died she knew exactly how much money she had given me over the past 55 years.

The other side of that was that I did not learn how to be truly independent until I was 50 years old, and she had no money to loan/give me. That would have been much less difficult lesson at 20 or 30. But, neither of us had healthy monetary boundaries. She used to laughingly complain that I would give people the shirt off my back and hers too. And, she was right. I didn’t separate my money from her money.

Growing up without healthy boundaries left me with no notion of how to set healthy adult boundaries. I let people have sex with me because it made them happy, and their happiness was my happiness. I felt guilty when my closest friends erred in their judgment, and I shared the emotional consequences of their decisions. I still tend to empathize too much with people I know well – and sometimes with those I don’t know at all. I can sense a person’s pain or anxiety standing in a check-out line, and sometimes, I carry that pain away with me. I am compelled to speak compassionately to that person.

What seems to be love beyond the call of duty may really be my lack of healthy boundaries. I get sucked into situations easily. I am learning that “No.” is a complete sentence; I don’t have to explain; I don’t have to listen to arguments; I can just say, “No.” I have to practice doing that in front of a mirror so that I can make it convincing. The assertiveness training that I took back when that was popular didn’t help much then, but I use those techniques now to maintain the boundaries I have recognized and set.

I can still be manipulated (and, believe me, I can still manipulate), but I am more aware of when that happens. I try to use the first person singular, “I”, instead of the first person plural, “We”. That helps me with boundaries. But, it’s hard; I still try to think like the other person; I try to solve others’ problems whether they want my help or not. Gradually, I’m learning to keep my mouth shut. I don’t make as many snap decisions as I once did.

Still, I mostly go with my gut feelings, and sometimes I have to backtrack to set those boundaries that I could have put in place in the beginning. Tough love. Sensible love. Unfortunately, love is a wild thing and cannot be controlled. Jesus modeled the example I try to follow: He said to the man who couldn’t walk, “Take up your pallet and walk.” He didn’t say, “Put your arms around my neck and I’ll carry you.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

God's love versus the international church

God’s love is manifested in many ways, but often through the love of fellow humans. Each of us seeks a place where we can feel God’s love, a place of acceptance, a haven for, well, those who are like us in some ways. We may only share the commonality that each of us feels like an outcast from some other part of the world. We may share great ideas, or we may share many likes and dislikes. What holds us together is the feeling that we are accepted and loved by others in this place and, therefore, accepted and loved by God.

When structure gets in the way of God’s love manifest through the church, then we outcasts begin to see differences more than similarities. We become discontent and seek another place of acceptance, another place where we can feel God’s love, because, surely, God’s love for us is not in this place.

The national and international affairs of large groups like churches are directed toward concord, unity, oneness. And, that oneness often implies similarities, rejects differences, and alienates many units within that large group: leaders rebel, churches vote to leave, individuals feel outcast once more. The love of God and one another seems lost.

The most important hope offered by the church is taken from us when we argue and create divisions: the hope that God loves even me. Church is ultimately about relationships, and arguments damage relationships. If you disagree with my belief about a particular thing enough to want to worship separately from me, then I begin to wonder if God and I are still in accord. How can we be in accord if God is also in accord with someone who wishes me ill?

Certainly “the faith” has been held together by large groups working in concord. And, certainly “the faith” has been almost destroyed by these same groups. What if we focused on the smaller units of the church? Parishes and congregations are still showing love to those with whom they disagree. Pastors are still encouraging relationships with God and among the people of their group.

I know that many people in the world don’t like me because I’m gay or because I’m a woman or because I’m an educated woman. Some people don’t like me because I have white hair. But, within my parish church, I am accepted and loved; I feel God’s love in that place. I argue, I agree, I am hurt, I am healed – not by the national group or the international group – by those people within my congregation. Sometimes I just have to set aside the divisions of the world in order to see the hope of God’s love.

I can’t imagine anyone ever saying, “Now that’s a loving nation!” or “The Anglican Communion is a loving group.” I can say, “The people at St. Anne’s are loving.” or “The people at Christ Church accept me.” That kind of love tends to get lost in larger scale or more definitive structure. God’s love is mostly manifest through the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, Mary and her friends weeping at the death of her son, the wedding at Cana. The feeding of the five thousand is like a “mountain-top experience”, an unusual event that occurs very seldom – a miracle.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Concerns and Delights

The Blogs I’ve been reading are written by very focused minds on topics that concern the Anglican Communion. I find them fascinating, humorous and wonderfully uplifting. Yet, I continue to see and be concerned about the more personal issues.

One friend, who is in the hospital, has just been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, in addition to other psychiatric diagnoses. She will be coming home this weekend, and I pray that she has the support she needs to live.

Another friend struggles with depression that sometimes reaches to the bottom of her soul and she can’t communicate with anyone.

My godson hasn’t been in touch with me in months, and I don’t know how to reach him or if I want to reach him. He has been doing crack for over a year now.

My other godson and his wife continue on the road to disaffection and possible divorce – if only they could figure out how they could afford that.

My contractor friend struggles with the bureaucratic requirements of building codes and whimsy of inspectors while trying to make a living.

A friend who lives in another state is working more and more hours, possibly to avoid conflicts at home.

My seminary buddy is raising her three special needs grandchildren, two teenagers and a lovely elementary school age granddaughter.

My goddaughter continues to survive (Thanks be to God) and overcome the complications of having an older husband with emphysema, three special needs children (one of whom is adult and one who thinks she is), very little money and her own psychological problems.

In spite of this litany of woes, about which I am prayerfully concerned – naw, I worry about these people in addition to praying – I am joyous and content. I was watching the moonlight on the creek before I began writing this, and my spirits leapt with joy. This afternoon I watched a fish dance across the water, moving in graceful, silvery leaps about 20 feet. The mornings and late afternoons are cooler than the last few weeks, and I can sit on the porch to enjoy the breeze and the peace of this place. The glitter and gleam of my beads beckon to me with swirling inspirations that I don’t even know how to create but look forward to trying.

My alcoholic friends continue to stay sober by going to meetings, using their sponsors and working the steps.

My religious friends continue to preach about God’s love.

My glamorous friends continue to delight me with their dress and beautiful skin and loving smiles.

“Tight Buns” continues to be a loving, caring father and a concerned friend.

My kite shop owner-friends continue to sell high-flying joys that catch the wind in the sky and flutter in the breezes from porches and decks.

Grandchildren continue to amaze all their relatives.

Friends continue to visit. The ocean continues to “roar”. The clouds continue to give us rain. Our blessings are many.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mercy and Choice

King David’s son, Absalom, rebelled against him, not in the usual teenage way, but with soldiers and armies. He wanted power and was determined to take it. David fought back. How hard it must have been for him to war against his beloved son, and what was the young man thinking! Yet, near the end of the battles, King David sends out a message to deal gently with Absalom. The mercy of a father! David’s reign over Israel was believed to be the finest; many parts of the Hebrew Scriptures lament the passing of that era and look for it to return in the form of the Messiah.

How merciful is the father! Absalom was trying to kill his father, and, yet, his father wished him no harm, forgave him in the midst of the rebellion. David loved his son.

How merciful is our God! We are forgiven even as we sin. We are loved in spite of our rebellion. Perhaps, like David who must have seen his younger self in his son, God sees the divine image within each of us. We are loved even when we are bent on destruction. We are forgiven in the midst of hateful deeds.

Absalom’s destruction at the hands of David’s servants crushed his father. He grieved. David could not control the actions of fear and hatred within his troops for they, like we, had free will. They could choose to obey the king or not. We can choose to obey God by following Jesus, or not. So can everyone else. And, others can thwart the desires of God by their choices. Even though God may be willing to show us mercy, forgive us and save us, others may not agree. Our destruction may come at the hands of those who purport to serve the king but do not obey him.

Our dowfall and, ultimately, our death may come because we continue to choose the path away from God, because we continue to rebel and are bent on self-destruction. God has given us the ability to choose – life or death. If we turn from our rebellion, God is merciful. God can lead us and give us the choices, but we must be like Aaron who challenges the people of Israel to choose life or death, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Self Centered Generalist

Yesterday a friend got a new computer; she was so excited. Computers are her “thing”. She said she was not a teenage when she discovered that she could really get excited about something (computers) and was good at working with them.

In these days, being a specialist is good, especially for your career path. You need some diversification and some cross training, but specialists get jobs and raises. Generalists don’t.

I am a generalist. I like computers and love to tinker with their innards and outtards. I like art, and I’m learning to paint. I love theology, and I want to help people have a relationship with God – of course, I’ve never figured out how to do that. I was a journalist and flak for a number of years. I’ve done some commercial photography and was good in a print shop. I organized and ran an ecumenical social service organization for a while. I’ve done some fundraising and some bad credit management of my own. I’ve worked as a temp secretary for large corporations, and I’ve pulled staples for a small-minded sweet-treat company. What I haven’t ever done is specialize.

It’s always been a source of embarrassment for me that, while I know a little bit about a lot of things, I don’t know very much about anything. I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous because I sound good and certain. I speak forcefully and with authority – even when I don’t know beans about the subject.

I’ve been reading blogs lately, and all these wonderfully written pieces don’t start with “I”. My blog would if I didn’t consciously change the opening sentence. Perhaps it’s rebellion against so many years of writing news stories that had to include all the facts in the lead sentence with never a first or second person pronoun. Perhaps I’m just self-centered and like to read my own opinion. (Not a bad idea since sometimes I inform myself of what I think by writing it in my blog.)

Perhaps the most telling thing about this observation is that I like doing lots of things. I like talking about lots of things. But, I really like reading about religion, God, theology, and justice. As I get older my attention span gets shorter; so blogs are great places for me to be happy and get excited and laugh a lot. These people decipher the jargon of politicians (both in and out of the church) and blow the chaff away, leaving only the good grainy heart of the matter for me to absorb. Thanks, y’all.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Classifications intrigue me. One set of classifications in homiletics (writing/giving sermons) involved the senses – auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. Taste and smell were covered with the Eucharist. We were encouraged to include words in our sermons that helped people relate through the three senses. And, if you were preaching about the Passover supper or Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, you could hit the other two senses.

I’ve used that knowledge to reach out to individuals in all kinds of groups. I listen to them, and then I use their kind of words to respond. If they say “I feel” then I can respond with kinesthetic words and possibly reach them better than visual words, like “I see”. For instance, I could say, “What you said touched me.”

As all classifications fail to include everyone, some people don’t emphasize any of the five senses. They respond better to statements like, “I think you may be right/wrong.” Or “Your reasoning is good.” These people require a great deal more factual knowledge to convince of a position or need than others who respond to the senses.

I’m mostly a kinesthetic person. I feel, I touch, I sense. While I can consciously phrase my conversation in other terms, when I’m talking about myself, the touchy-feely stuff works best. When I’m really hurting, I want someone else to feel how I feel not to see how I feel. But, any words are better than absence. Touch is better than words.

The words that I use to express myself reflect my thought processes. If I say, “I think” then I have examined data and used reason to reach that statement. If I say, “I envision”, then I have built castles in the air, creations of art and wonder. If I say, “I hear,” I’m probably repeating gossip because my strong sense is not auditory. If I say, “I feel”, then my words are a mixture of feelings, intuition, thought, and visualization – all compacted into a gut response that may not necessarily have its basis in reason. That’s when people should listen to me because that’s my strongest way of putting things together.

Each person has strengths in different areas of the senses. Being aware of how you speak can give you clues to how to you think. Being aware of how someone else speaks can help you respond in ways that they understand best.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A sermon

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration: the day when some of the apostles saw Jesus on a hillside with Moses and Elijah appearing with him. And, the three were talking to one another. The gospel of Luke says they were talking about Jesus’ imminent arrival in the place where they were – apparently, heaven. Good ole Peter wanted to set up a shrine to the event and to Jesus, but he was dissuaded when a voice from the midst of a cloud that enveloped him said “This is my beloved Son,” – much like the voice at Jesus’ dunking in the river by John the Baptist.

I like to think of the Transfiguration as a strategy planning session with the elders. Jesus, much as Moses did, went up on the mountaintop to get advice, to communicate with the Creator. Possibly Moses fared better than Jesus; he heard the voice of God; we are told only that the apostles heard the voice of God at the Transfiguration. Moses got his directions directly from the One; Jesus conferred with the aides. Moses lived a long life after his encounter; Jesus died a bloody death a short while later.

So Jesus says, “Okay, I’m headed for Jerusalem where I’m going to die. Right now, this repatriation isn’t going too well; not many are following my lead, and I’m not sure that I’ve told them what they need to know. So what do you think I should do to make this journey more effective? How should I change my preaching and teaching and healing to get the most out of these last few days?”

Moses was a great leader, educated in pharaoh’s courts, and he knew about the importance of looking like a leader. Perhaps he advised Jesus about the donkey business that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Sometime after the Transfiguration, Jesus bestowed his power upon a number of people including his apostles and another seventy that he sent out to tell the good news; so someone probably told him about getting more done by delegating. He reviewed the costs of the current program with the people who followed him – any good CEO knows the pluses and minuses of the project and tells his helpers. Elijah probably helped Jesus formulate some of the prophecies about the Day of Vengeance and the suffering and the redemption.

What a learning experience that must have been for Jesus! He had the great leaders to guide him in the most important project of his life...telling people that they could have a relationship with God and with their neighbors – a relationship of love. We can’t know how much advice he remembered, how much he forgot and how much he discounted because it was out of date. What we do know is that some of Jesus’ most powerful teaching and healing occurred after this event.

Many of us have a pretty good idea where we headed and some concept of how we’re going to die. We’ve had the benefit of the world’s greatest teachers in person, through books, news and film. We’ve heard great voices proclaim the truths of each generation.

Unfortunately, most of us are still plodding along just as we were before we heard or experienced these truths. We applaud those who are out there doing, but we sit comfortably in our homes and cars and boats and let others do.

The story of the Transfiguration is a great altar call, a true mountaintop experience. Each of us is called to witness to the good news that God is available. Each of us is called to proclaim and live out this good news using the best advice we can hear. Each of us must use our own Transfiguration as a strategy-planning session for the rest of our lives. What advice are you hearing?

Friday, August 04, 2006


I remember my first encounters with the concept of serenity; an introverted friend pointed out that I lived in chaos. I retorted that was better than boredom – a synonym in my vocabulary for serenity. Then, my soon-to-be-partner and I argued for a couple of hours on a five hour trip about the value of serenity, and I wanted no part of it. Serenity would rob me of the excitement and creativity in my life. Serenity would mean knuckling under and taking whatever anyone else dished out. No way.

That was almost ten years ago. I got involved with a twelve-step program and met people who had something I wanted. They called it serenity. I called it sanity. So, I reached out, turned loose, examined, confessed, and did all the things they had done. Sanity was still a bit elusive but around more than before.

Then I retired to a place of peace, quiet, solitude and water. I had time to think about my life and my life decisions. I contemplated my relationships with my Mother and my significant others. I dreamed about events that had happened many years ago. As I accepted the person I had been and turned loose of the guilty and shame, I felt a sense of depression overtake me – at least that is the only word I had to describe the missing anger in my life.

One day, someone asked me if I could be mistaking serenity for depression. Since I had never felt serenity, I had no idea what it was like. I listened carefully as others described their serenity, and, wonder of wonders, I discovered that I had gained some measure of serenity. I was amazed. Boredom was not part of it. A lack of creativity was not part of it. My decisions were better. My health was better. And, I was truly very happy.

Serenity is now something I cherish, and I guard it carefully. When I find it disappearing, I sit down and examine where I have departed from it – for serenity does not leave me; I leave it. It’s like God. When I feel the absence of God, I wonder where I have strayed from our friendship. God didn’t move; I did. The absence of God and the absence of serenity seem to go hand in hand for me. As I return to a daily verbal, kinesthetic and meditative relationship with God, serenity returns to my life.

Gaining serenity has meant that I must continually give up anger, over and over again. And, I must give up being angry that I continue to be angry. Old habits are hard to give up, but new ones that are practiced regularly eventually take the place of the old ones.

I’m trying to make serenity a habit.

Door to door by friends

Our heat index yesterday was 108. Making sun tea would have been quick as long as you got to the jar before the sun evaporated all the water. I don’t go out much on days like that, and we’ve had a lot of them lately. Earlier this week I went to the grocery store and thoroughly enjoyed the cool produce and meat sections of the store. But, back home with a trunk-load of groceries, I could not get them all inside before I was panting and had to rest. I brought inside only those things that needed refrigeration.

Younger people without asthma and allergies can cope with the heat better, and I am grateful for them. I can remember being one of those and helping people who needed things done during the extremes of cold or hot weather. That’s not who I am now. I’m a 60-year-old who is hampered by breathing problems.

Yesterday, a friend came to get me in her already cool car and took me to lunch. She dropped me off at the door and I went inside to wait for her. Likewise, while I was getting a refill for my iced tea, she got the car and was waiting for me at the door. How delightful it was to be able to accept help in order to keep doing the things I enjoy. And, how absolutely wonderful to have friends who will help.

We also went to the grocery store to pick up something I had forgotten, and, again, I got the door to door treatment. I arrived home still breathing fine and having had a great time. Just getting out for a couple of hours really keeps away the cabin fever.

Today promises to be another scorcher; so I’m not sure what I’ll do. I usually go to a Friday noon meeting in another town; perhaps I’ll let my partner drive while I enjoy the air conditioned car – door to door service by those who breathe better than I.

Thanks, y’all!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Learning to paint

For most of my life I have had pictures in my head; I’d look at a tree and see a drawing or a painting. Sometimes when I closed my eyes, I’d see pulsing colors much like the “skins” on MP3 songs. I could create these amazing pictures only in my head; trying to make them visible to others was much too scary. What if they thought I was crazy? What if I was/am crazy?

A friend asked me a few weeks ago why I don’t listen to music. I replied, “But, I do. I hear the songs in my head; I don’t really need to hear them with my ears.” My pictures were similar. I see them in my brain; I don’t need to see them with my eyes.

Now I want to see them with my eyes. I want to share my visions with others, and I don’t have the skills to do that. However, today I took a major step towards putting my pictures on paper or canvas. I painted my first two acrylic pictures. In the first one, I experimented with the various brushed I had bought and varying amounts of water and pigment. What fun!!

Susie, my artist friend, was sitting beside me quietly painting an aquamarine and purple cat with sienna highlights. I was watching her. As she was putting whiskers on her cat, I decided that I wanted to paint the same thing. Well, sort of the same thing. At least I wanted to begin with the same picture of her cat. So I took the picture to the computer and enlarged it, sketched in outline in pencil.

Then I was afraid! What to do next? Finally, I began working with blacks and greys to get the shadows and highlights done. I pondered over the fur, the fluff around the head, the wisps on the ears. The body was awful. I had painted long black and grey strokes that resembled a barrel more than a cat body.

I did the eyes and they looked evil; so I tried to figure out what made them appear that way. I remembered some psychological tests where faces had eyes turned different ways and mouths down or up and mustaches in different forms. I added some white to the eyes (they’re lime green) and made them slightly larger. No more evil eye.

Susie and I took a break and scanned her painting into the computer and played with changing the colors. I liked the teal cat with magenta eyes and the apple green cat. We did an outline like a neon sign in the night. Such manipulation is fun!

When I returned to my painting, I lopped off the barrel body, put some bold touches on the face, giving it some form, and toned down the tiny strokes that I’d hoped would look like fur. It was a decent painting for my first session. Yahoo!

I am an artist now. Perhaps someday when my skills have improved, I may come closer to bringing those pictures in my head out for my eyes to see. It’ll be a fun journey anyway.