Tuesday, February 27, 2018

This is Not the Lent I Had Planned

I had not planned to go on a media fast for Lent...and apparently my body knew that because I fell into old habits when I decided to forego social media for a week. Given the events of the first day of Lent, another mass shooting incident, calls for nothing less than sack cloth and ashes, mourning and weeping. Yet, I went about fixing breakfast and promptly popped onto a social media site -- didn't even think about the fast until 10 "likes" were clicked.

Still, I did change my plans which had included more of the ideas from Pope Francis (see image at the bottom of the page) and less of the kind which seem more like being put on restriction as in one's teenage years. I had thought to practice putting on goodness (and at the same time taking off that which harms). I had seen too much of sack cloth and ashes for show while the inner man and woman remained unchanged.

I needed a plan that recognized "to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8). I needed that which drew me to the love of Christ and a desire to put on kindness, gratitude, patience, hope, trust, contentment, joy, compassion, and love while at the same time drew me into an awareness of that which needed to be taken off and repented.

I found it in Ezekiel 36: 26 -- "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

I so appreciate the practice of my early morning fellowship. Each week during the season of Lent, as we walk into the church, we take a stone out of the basket (pictured above) and then we sit and converse with God asking to be shown those times during the past week when our hearts have been stony.

As we sing "A New Heart I'll Give to You", we place our stones in the baptismal bowl where the pastor will come with a pitcher of water to pour over the stones.

How often we blame our flesh and punish the flesh when the heart of flesh is not the problem. It's our hearts of stone. For me, during this Lenten season, I may fast -- from food or a food, from social media, from something that normally is just fine to indulge in -- but only if it aids in drawing me into the heart of Jesus where I will be given a heart of flesh in exchange for my heart of stone. Each of the "fast from" items on the left side of the words of Pope Francis are all characteristics of a stony heart. The characteristics on the right are those of a heart of flesh given by God as I draw deeper in relationship with Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Preventing and Reversing (The End of Alzheimer's by Dale E. Bredesen)

I highly recommend this book not only for those whose family medical history includes Alzheimer's but also for those interested in possible ideas for other chronic illnesses. This is an incredibly hope-filled book. It is also a book which cites research and uses medical terms. I want that in any book about health that I read. If you do not, I noticed a concise version of this book offered on Amazon. It's possible that it leaves out the the medical vocabulary and the narrative remains. (I can not confirm that this is true; I'm just guessing that a shorter book might skim down the research.)

What Bedesen has to say made sense to me from the beginning, and after reading pages of logical reasoning based on research and results, I was still in agreement when he writes on page 272: "For centuries, we humans typically died from acute infections such as bacterial pneumonia, and the great biomedical success of the twentieth century was to develop antibiotics that treat them and public health policies that prevent them. As a result, most of us now die from chronic, complex illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Unfortunately, we tried to solve the problem of chronic illness in the same way we solved the problem of acute illness: with a single pill, monotherapy. This is like using your checkers strategy in a chess match."

I also think it is human nature to want the quick one-size-fits-all solution, whether we're discussing health, education, child-rearing, or spiritual formation. An integrated, personalized approach takes time and work. Wouldn't it be nice if all of life could be solved with one pill? But, we are complex beings, uniquely made. My siblings and I are engaging on a journey, each journey unique to each, of seeking healing, mending, and thriving. We've just begun so we don't have a lot to say as yet (and I'm the most verbal -- imagine that); however, you can check on our journeys at Heal, Mend, Thrive .


As I indicated above, I now truly believe in an integrated, personalized approach to child rearing. I did not learn that early enough in my child rearing days even though I had indications that this was the case. A story I tell that some friends have heard often involves my art drawer for my children. From the moment I gave birth to my first son and continuing with each child thereafter, I had a large art drawer in one of the bottom row of kitchen drawers. Inside this drawer was everything a child could need to be creative: paper, crayons, scissors, etc. The first two children were creative to their hearts' content and never used any of the tools poorly. I thought it was the way I was raising my children. Ha! The third child came along and wrote her name, engraved her name, on many places other than a piece of paper (bunk bed, coffee table, walls). This child graduated with a degree in art history. The fourth child came along and cut her hair! She also graduated with a degree, but, no, she is not a beautician. Same child rearing, different children.

I'm always amazed when Christ-following spiritual leaders have a one-size-fits-all take on spiritual formation. Usually this is read your bible, get into a small community group, and go out and witness. I have no argument with "read your bible" but research shows that a vast number of Christians do not, and I believe that it has to do with trying to read the bible like a textbook. I have no argument with small community groups, but how they are put together and what happens inside may be problematic. With the statement, "Go out and witness" -- I have arguments against that I'd rather not go into here except to simply say the way that most Christians witness causes more harm than good. And, probably the most important connection to the a theme in the non-fiction book above? Integrated personalized practices that draw people to God: sleeping, slowing down, silence, fasting from criticism (oops!), among many others -- practices that integrate with personalized practices of reading the bible, being in community, and being the kind of person that people want to know why you are so wonderfully loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled, helpful, and good.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Finding -- (Life Animated by Ron Suskind)

I vaguely remember seeing Life Animated the documentary offered for viewing somewhere, but I've never seen it. Also, I have never read anything by Pulitzer Prize author Ron Suskind (that I can recall). For the more politically literate readers asking where have I been, I can only say that raising children and working left little time for choosing to read mostly political offerings. My introduction to Suskind via his book Life Animated comes because our local library book discussion group chose to read it for the month of February.

I knew right away that this was easily a 4 star book. From the hand of this skilled and gifted non-fiction writer (with all the appropriate facts and details) comes also a gripping story written with style and grace. When I reached page 108, I had raised those 4 stars to 5 and knew I would be buying the book. I buy books because I want to underline and keep something in mind. On this page (which became the first page of many), I want to remember Suskind's discussion of schmaltz and sentimentality. He writes "...for non-fiction [sentimentality gives one's characters] more love than society gives them, because maybe to do so upends the order of things; namely our surety in the ways we measure human values and some of us see ourselves, quite comfortably, as better than others."

After writing that last sentence, I went back and changed the title of this post. I had started with "Understanding", but understanding can lift us readers up as the ones who look down and now can understand. I tried out "Valuing" but even that word could carry with it the idea that I will value those lesser than I. Perhaps, this can also be true of "respect." So, I skipped all of those and went with "Finding" because this book is about finding the treasure within, finding the real person inside every human being, finding how to communicate with someone like Owen Suskind who, at the age of three, lands on the autism spectrum and has lost all speech he had, yet Owen Suskind -- heart, mind, and soul -- is still encased within his body.

The book is also about finding each person's giftedness, finding the inner hero, finding that sidekicks are heroes, finding the affinities which draw a person out of his or her isolation into friendship and kinship.

And, the Disney videos shown with the book in the picture above? You may find yourself wanting to go back and watch a few to see them through Owen Suskind's eyes.


There's much in this book for parents whether one has an autistic child or not. Finding your child's affinities, being present to your child, growing through each stage of your child's life. Suskind often refers to a phrase: same and different. Yes, there are some situations that are different because of autism, yet some situations are the same no matter what challenge you and your child is facing.

Spiritual formation practices: Unlike J. D. Salinger's quote in this book, I trust that it is not possible to love a human being more than God does. That 1 Corinthians 13 passage typically read at wedding services as the goal for couples? God is all that.

Being present and looking for the image of the Creator in every human being, practicing loving each as God loves, would be a good practice. As C.S. Lewis wrote: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Befriending Writing -- (Memoirs of a Private Man by Winston Graham)

I may have read more memoirs the first 40 days of 2018 than I have in my entire life! I started Memoirs of a Private Man fairly close to the first day of the new year, reading a few pages each night or while waiting to pick up grandchildren from school. The book is not boring; it's just that I own this book and the library books must be finished or I incur library fees (not that fees have ever kept me from holding onto a book a bit longer -- I consider it my way of supporting public libraries).

I'm discovering that memoirs are not written chronologically. Graham admits he has not: "This, I hope readers will have realized has not been intended as a chronological memoir." Nice to know on page 259, two pages from the end of the book! Yet, each memoir I've read this year has been this same way. I surmise two thoughts from Graham's statement and the reading of the other memoirs: 1) Perhaps there is a theme to each chapter (although I'm not sure what it is in some chapters, so it could be a memoir is just written in whichever way an author remembers while he or she is writing), and 2) chronological memoirs exist.

First on Graham's mind as he prefaces this book is that he has not committed any of the "fashionable sins". He mentions murder, burglary, among other "sins" that I had to look up in the dictionary. His friend thought maybe Graham had committed simony, and Graham had to ask what that was. I've started a few memoirs like that, generally of the Hollywood vein, and never finished them.

I find it difficult separating whether I actually liked the book or whether the draw of reading about the making of the Poldark series kept me reading. Yes, this is the author of that series.

What is not to like about this picture (snagged from radiotimes) of the newest Poldark series: both the actors and the Cornwall scenery! Just so you all know, I did read the books, every single one of the 12 book series. My reviews of each are on Goodreads although not here on this blog.

While the organization (or lack thereof) is not to my taste, Graham's writing style here in his memoir is as excellent as it is in his books (of which, surprise to me, there are many more, mostly modern). Here is one sentence that grabbed me in spite of Graham breaking one of the "rules" I told my former students: "There are people too whom I describe as psychological bedwetters, who are for ever making little puddles of trouble that they think they can't help" (250).

Graham also discusses one of his books The Green Flash (not a combination of the Flash and Green Arrow/Lantern). When it was published, it was not a big seller. Graham states that a director told him it was a "fine novel but he would not want to make it into a film because the hero was such a @#$%" (I know...I still can't bring myself to use the word after so many years of outlawing it in my own home.) Publishers assured Graham that the book would continue to make it in the world. By now, this book might be mild by some current standards.

I found the book to be lovely and an easy read. I don't know that I would give it 5 stars, usually a number I give to books I buy and I did buy this one, but it is a grudgingly 4 star book (ha, I still can't forgive Graham for not being chronological).

As for the title of this blog "Befriending Writing"? Much of this book is filled with friendship, with his wife, with the actors of the first Poldark series, with men at the Savile Club, with his books. Writing, because that is the other subject with which the book is filled. Graham definitely had optimal conditions for writing, conditions most of us do not have, but he made the most of those conditions and kept his integrity, his privacy (I had no idea Graham even existed until the second Poldark series), and his marriage. Not a bad life.


I wasn't sure I had any comment to make to parents of young children, but I think I did glean this from the book. My male students used to complain about how female characters (and they believed in real life as well) were drawn to "bad boys." This might be the case in Graham's The Green Flash; however, in his own life, the good guy did well enough for himself and his family. His wife and children did well enough for themselves.

Perhaps a good practice to go with Memoirs of a Private Man might be secret service. This is a practice where one does something good and doesn't tell anyone! I did this one time (yes, I know, obviously I could use some more practice) and for weeks I had to fight the inclination to tell someone. I was at the point where surely telling a stranger on the street would be okay. Now, I can't even remember what I did, but I think my soul grew a little more that day.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Gift Books on the Top Middle Shelf in the Blue Room (and The World According to Mr. Rogers)

Ah, yes. Gift books. When you graduate from high school, you tend to get five copies of the latest in gift books for the graduate. Or, if you are the giver and you do not know what to give a graduate, but there is a gift book at hand, then that is what he or she will receive (even though they probably would have rather had the cash). This sounds harsh, especially since I happen to have a shelf of gift books.

However, this top shelf has a short vertical size which is perfect for gift books although I suppose some people, not me, would put knick knacks there. I do have two small floral paintings from Russia which hide audio tapes (yes, tapes) and CDs which came out before the time of podcasts.

Furthermore, I actually like some of these books and the book which I just read: The World According to Mr. Rogers is one worth buying (if the price is not outrageous) and keeping.

I have been fond of Mr. Rogers (now deceased) since first discovering his children's television program in the late seventies. His program moved slowly, gently, and thoughtfully. A friend mentioned the other day, "Mr. Rogers never talked down to the children."

My favorite Mr. Rogers's quote comes from when you have been hit with tragedy: "Look for the helpers." My favorite Mr. Rogers song is also in this book: "It's You I Like." Here are just two other new-to-me quotes from Mr. Rogers (although I may have heard them once before during the show):

"Some days, doing 'the best we can' may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn't perfect -- on any front -- and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else."

"Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It take strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it."

I'd love to see this book turned into a perennial flip page desk calendar where I could see a different Mr. Roger quote each day.

As for those books on the gift book shelf? I'll try to make a list in the comments section later. For now, I've discovered some of them which I used all the time in the classroom can now find a new home; others, like the graduate book,...ummm, dare I re-gift it? As for the rest, they may stay there. But, what am I going to do with those Mars-Hill audio tapes?


Mr. Rogers has lots of great wisdom for parents.

A practice to go with this book? As Dallas Willard was fond of saying: "Take the next right step you know to take." If that next step falls short, know as Mr. Rogers states: "You have done what you could with what you had" (actually that's in the New Testament bible as well about the woman who "did what she could." And, know that God says, "It's you I like."