Saturday, March 10, 2018

Poem: Will the True Inheritor Please Step Forward?

Explanatory note: Okay, so, I feel like I must not be a very good poet if I have to write an explanatory note. But, well, so be it! I wrote this in January 2017 when my daughter was obsessed with Mother Goose rhymes (such as "This is the house that Jack built") and I was obsessed with Wendell Berry. 

This is the machine that Jack built.
This is the product, plastic and frail
Designed by the manufacturer to fail
That’s made by the machine that Jack built.

These are the workers, all forlorn
Estranged from the product, plastic and frail
Designed by the manufacturer to fail
That’s made by the machine that Jack built.

These are the dreams, all tattered and torn,
Obscured in the workers, all forlorn
Estranged from the product, plastic and frail
Designed by the manufacturer to fail
That’s made by the machine that Jack built.

This is the world of poisoned streams
That aches for the workers’ forgotten dreams
That drown in a shake
Made with real ice cream

And Jack, never a great appreciator of irony,
Walks out of the movie theater
Saying “Wouldn’t it be awful if robots really did take over the world?”

This is the seed that sprouted
This is the berry the little boy found
And planted with ignorant hope in the ground
Which held the seed that sprouted

This is the wonder and this is the awe
He never forgot from the moment he saw
The stalk risen up at no human command
Designed by some other Invisible Hand

And everyone worried that Jack Jr. wasn’t
A go-getter like his father
But the silent spirits of the trees felt his quiet attention
And in his darkness something was growing.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Me, too. But ...

I learned about the “Me too” thingy by seeing friends’ Facebook status updates and felt it was appropriate to add my own little drop to the bucket. It seems like a good idea to help raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault against women. But I have mixed feelings about the, I guess “micromovement,” one might call it—as I have about a lot of feminist statements and calls to arms and such.

It troubles me that the “Me too” thingy might exacerbate the problem that people grossly, habitually underestimate the percentage of men who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. This is much more widespread and difficult to address because the stigma against men speaking out about their experience of harassment and assault is so much more powerful than it is for women. Probably no woman would be surprised if every single one of her female friends said “Me too.”  But if every man who has been harassed or assaulted were to do the same, people of both genders would most likely be deeply shocked.

The other thing that is concerning to me is that often it seems like feminists blame men in general for the inappropriate actions of individuals. Yes, considering how many incidents of inappropriate behavior are occurring, the percentage of men who commit them must be pretty high. But I don’t see it really addressing the problem to lump them together with men who would never even entertain the idea of cat calling a stranger, let alone assaulting someone.

I think it’s interesting, looking at my own experience as a young female pastor in a mainline denomination … I can think of three separate situations in which, as a pastor (and pastoral candidate almost ready to be ordained) it seemed to me than certain women in positions of authority exercised their power over me in a manner that I felt was inappropriate. I cannot recall any similar situations involving men. Overall, I have felt more respected and supported by male colleagues in ministry than female colleagues. (I should note that the instances of perceived abuses of power were minor and ultimately turned out, at least in some sense, “okay.”)

So, anyway, I really question the value of talking about abuses of power against women as if they were something that men do to women. Rather, it seems like something that certain individuals, male and female have particular problems with. And, I feel it's important to share, I do not blame them for it. Every single one of us has some deep-seated resentment and confusion about gender issues (and when I say "confusion," I am referring to a whole host of confused feelings people have about gender, not just ambivalence about one's gender role). The resentment and confusion is worse for some than others. But the more each of us develops the capacity to look compassionately and honestly within ourselves, the more we will be able to forgive others who are struggling and bring grace into our discussion of these issues.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Few Hours In Paradise

Have I shared these pictures on my blog before or is it just deja vu? Maybe it's because I've been intending to write this post for so very long ...

Six years ago, we were living in California and on a trip up to Washington we visited Mt. Rainier. The area with the interpretive center--from which you can begin a very gentle hike through flowery mountain meadows, past pristine streams and waterfalls, all with a stunning view of the summit--is called Paradise, and on that day, it was living up to its name.

Wildflowers were blooming, the air was exquisitely fresh and sweet, it was the perfect temperature--just a shade cooler than warm, with a caressing breeze. It was like being inside of a Jehovah's Witness booklet, just minus the predatory animals snuggling with their natural prey. It was so utterly beautiful, so perfect ...

I've wanted for six years now to share this on my blog. And I've been thinking of this, remembering the experience for six years. But I never really knew what I wanted to say about it. Other than, OH MY GOSH IT WAS SO WONDERFUL. But I don't like to write (or speak) without having a definite purpose for doing so. And I really was at a loss to say what this experience meant.

But now ... I am reaching a point in my life where I'm learning the value of leaving things undefined. Of refraining from analysis. Or returning to such a place, perhaps. During my dark and painful years in college I found great solace in a book called The Cloud of Unknowing, which describes a mystic path to union with God which leads through a place of darkness--a place where the senses, the intellect and even the emotions are left behind and the naked soul reaches toward the Mystery that cannot be contained by any human definition ...

So ... anyway ... I don't know what it all means. But I wanted to share these pictures and to describe what they recall to my mind: an experience that is ultimately beyond description but which can be alluded to, and perhaps recognized by someone who has also spent a few hours--or even a moment--in Paradise.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2016 Hattie Pictures

Happy New Year!
For our friends who don't use Facebook, here are some Hattie photo highlights of 2016. Enjoy! And I hope your

January 2016: Hattie joins the fine Pickering and Way family traditions of standing in front of the heater.

February 2016: enjoying Mama's birthday cake.

Playing in the sink: a favorite pastime.

Memorial Day at the local cemetery.

Father's Day hike.

On a roadtrip to a friend's wedding in Portland, Hattie meets Big Mac. "Mmmm! Yummy!"

Hattie flipped for summer foods: watermelon, corn on the cob, blackberries, and most of all, tomatoes and snap peas from Auntie Suzanne's garden.

Summer at the family's beach spot on the Snoqualmie River
Walking from the river back to the house, through the fields. What a summer!

Another favorite pastime--and a favorite series: Pete the Cat by James Dean.
The wind and falling leaves were exhilarating.

Don't be fooled by this pose: Hattie was happily wading and splashing in that cold, cold water just minutes before.

Hattie lends a hand a the family pumpkin patch.

We got Hattie a pumpkin costume to wear at the patch, but she screamed and screamed in it. So for Halloween I let her pick out a character hat and we did a simple Grover ...

Thanksgiving 2016: after dinner, napping while Mama watches Elf.

Decorating the tree as she does all things: thoughtfully, carefully.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Presidential Debate I Would Like To See

Someday I would like to watch a presidential debate in which the candidates did not spend the whole time attacking each other's policy proposals (even civilly) but instead discussed what they appreciated about the other person's perspective and vowed to honor the valid and important concerns that the other candidate's platform represented. I would like to see candidates (and a voting public) who feel that whichever of the nominees were to win would make a fine president, worthy of the full support of the nation.

Right now, the debates don't seem worth watching because all we get to see is a big show of disagreement which obscures the hidden agenda that both of our reigning parties share: protecting the interests of big business. What we are seeing is the dominance of a tiny elite class over the rest of the world and somehow people don't realize they're being manipulated because they've been offered a spectacle of competition, much like a sporting event, in which they were encouraged to root for one team over the other. But in reality, both teams are owned by the same corporate conglomerates.

Someday, I would like to see us move beyond this kind of farcical drama and begin an era of genuine collaboration between leaders who truly represent the diverse and varied interests, values, hopes, and aspirations of the American people--and the rest of world, on whom we have such a huge impact.

Some people may think it's no use imaging such a world when that reality is so very far away, but picturing new ways of doing things is the only way that innovative change came come about. If everyone spent half the time that they currently spend complaining about the way things are discussing instead their vision for the way things ought to be, I think we'd start to see positive changes happening a lot quicker.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Problem with Facebook and Politics

In theory, it seems like Facebook could be a wonderful tool for equipping the voting public with relevant information and analysis and for generating political discussion at the grassroots level. And sometimes it is. But at other times, political speech on Facebook seems to be doing more harm than good. Here are some of the problems I see:

-        Human beings have always been prone to make judgmental (and often nasty) comments behind each other’s backs. And what better arena in which to judge people than politics? The thing about Facebook is that somehow people feel free to make exactly the kind of judgmental (and often nasty) comments that have always been made in private, but now in a semi-public setting. People on the left and right are now party to all the mean, uncharitable, deliberately ignorant remarks made about them by the other side. The kind of ad hominem attacks that would be considered extremely rude at politically mixed in-person gatherings is normal online.

-        The tone of righteous self-expression tends to preclude discussion. People often feel they have a moral obligation to share highly combative political statements. Such individuals feel that they are standing up for a worthy cause. But what are they really accomplishing? The tone of self-righteousness indicates to people who disagree that their views are being summarily dismissed. It is apparent that the poster has no interest in finding out why people might disagree with her or him and whether there might be any merit in arguments against his or her position.

-        Even when discussion happens, it tends to be of a strident, polemical nature. When we get into debates on Facebook, we are not addressing each other as individuals—we are addressing the crowd. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we feel pressured to write whatever will make us look good to our imagined sympathizers in the audience, rather than actually trying to communicate. We are less likely to admit we were wrong or ask for clarification. We feel we should write concise “zingers” for the crowd to applaud.

Perhaps others can add to this list. But anyway, what to do? Well, for myself, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

-        I try not to post or write anything that would be rude to say in-person to someone who disagrees with me. (If you’re not sure whether something is okay, you might picture someone you know personally who is on the “other side” and ask yourself whether you would say this to their face.)

-        I try to cultivate an attitude of humility. I make it a point to actively fight the natural human inclination toward self-righteousness. I remind myself that I don’t know everything, that I am sometimes wrong, and that I have a lot to learn from people who disagree with me.

-        When I engage in political debates on Facebook, I repeatedly tell myself that I am not writing to make myself look good; I am trying to understand what the other person is saying and to make myself understood. I try to write only what is conducive to clear communication.

-        If I find that a discussion has degenerated into a polemical tit-for-tat, I call a time-out. I do whatever I can to clear the slate and start over. This may include apologizing for my part in taking the conversation down an unfruitful path; stating that it was not my intention to pick a fight and what I really want is to understand what the other person is saying and to share my thoughts and feelings; and my latest strategy, which I’m just now developing is to TAKE IT OFF FACEBOOK(!)—perhaps by switching over to private messaging, but probably even better, by meeting in-person, writing a physical letter on actual paper(!!!), or even talking on the phone.

I know a number of people who are very political on Facebook because they have a strong desire to make a positive difference in the world. That is highly commendable. I think it would help a little bit for such people to move the tenor of online political discussions in a kinder direction. And I think the biggest difference we can make in the world is by loving our “enemies” one-on-one. That is, by taking the time and making the effort to communicate meaningfully with someone we think needs to change.  And if we’re doing it right, we’ll find out from them what we didn’t know we were missing ourselves.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Melancholy Poem with Postscript

It's like a promiscuous lover,
he said.
How we kept moving all over the country
Leaving a trail of broken friendships
Every time
It was a tragedy

It had been a poignant meeting with friends
only on our side of the continent for singular reasons

Of course, he was right
and we've been torn many a time

the little piece of you
that was planted in my heart
may keep on growing, however far we are apart

And when we meet again
--we will--
may it be a gentle pleasure
to see what has flourished
of the seeds from your garden


For my dearly beloved faraway friends
who have sown
kindness, generosity, happiness, care,
piety, reverence, and warmth.
I will tend the garden
as best I can.