Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone a happy 2008!

2007 has been a great and hopeful year for me in many ways. I've been very, very blessed!

And, I wish all of you blessings for the coming year and beyond.

I hear Poodledoc, Jr starting to set off Party Poppers with his cousins while they watch a record 343rd episode of Scrubs since we got here a week ago.

Leaving tomorrow as early as possible. It will be good to get home to 10 degrees, snow, my comfy apartment and Duke, the Standard Poodle. I hope he's shoveled out the driveway.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Chattanooga Friends Meeting

I visited Chattanooga Friends Meeting this morning and that felt good to my Spirit. I enjoyed the beautiful, stone Meetinghouse, perched up on a hill as we drove up on this rainy First Day. Poodledoc, Jr decided to accompany me. About 20 or so folks showed up today and we sat in silence for 55 minutes. There were several messages shared. One was about "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" which I took to heart, as I haven't been happy with how judgemental I've been towards my family that I'm visiting here in Chattanooga. So that gently eased me back from the judgemental mode.

Another person spoke of how last night they had received three calls from the local county jail. The first two times, they let it ring, since the caller ID told them the call was originating in the jail. They thought it might be a scam. But on the third call, they answered the phone. A woman they did not know was asking them to accept charges on a call. I guess she sounded sincere or they were led to accept the charges. The woman told them she was in jail for bouncing some checks. She asked if they could arrange a call through to her family. Because of the nature of the technology, it would have to be a conference (three way) call. The people had never done this with their phone and after several failed attempts and disconnections, they were able to connect the woman with her son and it sounded like this was just what God needed to have done. It sounded like this was a re-connection to family. Some hope. I felt very moved and hopeful as I heard this story.

The last five minutes were spent coming out of worshipful silence into a short period where we could speak about a person or persons we would like to ask to be held in the Light. After rise of Meeting and after I awoke Poodledoc,Jr from his slumbers, there were refreshments and then they were going to head into the "Second Hour" which is apparently a weekly discussion on a given topic. This week's discussion focused on their Meeting: what happened in 2007 and where they'd like to see things go in 2008. We didn't stay for this part, but it's something that might be interesting for my Meeting to try, although we are a larger Meeting. After saying good byes, I left the stone Meetinghouse feeling calmer than I'd felt in a few days. Thank you, Friends.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Face of God? Exodus 33:17-23

This bible passage speaks to me. It’s forcing me to realize that it’s hard if not impossible to see God’s plan in the present, when it’s directly in front of me. After God moves away, however, and I travel on my journey, I can look back and better see God’s plan in my life (and in the world as a whole). This informs and strengthens my faith in God, the Creator’s plans. Of course, other times, I look back and wonder what the heck God’s plan actually was. Or is. For me or for the world. So I’m not saying I understand what I see very often. Every once in a while, I think I do have a smidgen of understanding. But, better to look and not know than to not look at all.

And the Lord said to Moses “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one can see my face and live”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then, I will remove my hand and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.”

At least…………that’s how it’s speaking to me now, having just read this passage and one possible interpretation (of this passage) in Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell. (The sequel to The Sparrow). So this is a passage I am planning to sit with for a time, since it seems to call me. Perhaps I will gain further insights. I’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nicaraguan Coffee: The Irony

This past Christmas day, my brother's family gave me some coffee which was nice. I like coffee. I also liked that it was Nicaraguan coffee and free trade coffee, at that. As I looked at the two bags of coffee sitting on the table it brought back some memories......

I thought back to a time about 20 years ago. Reagan and the US government were funding the Contra "rebels" to overthrow the democratically elected Sandinista government which had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship, which had been supported by the US for many, many years. Not only did Reagan help the Contras (they were terrorists,by the way), but he imposed a trade embargo.

I was a member of a group called Trade for Peace which was importing Nicaraguan goods as an act of civil disobedience to the trade embargo. We brought in stamps, some artwork and--------------coffee. A sympathetic local coffee merchant roasted the coffee beans for us in secret. We imported perhaps $3,000 worth of goods.

One day, US Customs made a raid on one of the members in our group. They searched his house from top to bottom. We're talking dressers, the underwear drawer, etc. They confiscated all those evil postage stamps, the coffee, some oil paintings.

We faced some serious charges. It was scary. It was scary that the government could search our homes. It was absolutely bizarre that they spent much more than $3,000 to "apprehend" us. I called the media. We made the "news". Local columnists called the raid ridiculous, which it was.

Eventually, we came to agreement with the government that the charges would be dropped if we promised not to continue our civil disobedience. A bitter irony was that several members of our group had to meet with the US Customs officer who led the "operation", in his Milwaukee office. There, on the wall, was one of the Nicaraguan paintings he and his agents had confiscated in the raid. Irony.

So, there on the table are the two pounds of coffee. Irony. The times, they are a changin'.................

This Quaker and the Eucharist

When I was a Methodist, I shared the Eucharist ritual but it felt hollow most of the time. My mom had asked me if I would "take Communion" at their Methodist church at the Christmas Eve service. I said it depends on how it was presented. As a convinced Quaker, I am not totally against ritual per se. I am searching for the divine, the spiritual source and power of these rituals. I believe that much of that has been lost. So, I was keen to see how the Eucharist was presented this past Christmas Eve.

I listened carefully to the pastor. What I heard in his sermon was the following: you (the congregation) are the sheep, we pastors are the shepherds, we will bring you the Word of God. So you just sit there passively while we protect you from "predators". (huh? Sin? the current administration?) He went on to say that we needed to "look for a Savior". To me, that's fine to do that, if you bring that strength inside, bring God or Christ or whatever you choose to call the deity in your life. If you keep it external, remain passive, remain unconnected, remain sheep on the hillside, then this is dis-empowering, in my opinion. My brother and I talked this over later. He did not hear it the way I did. I'm not saying I'm right and he's wrong or that the pastor is a bad person. Just that from my experience in life, this felt hollow. So, I chose not to take Eucharist. I didn't feel I could connect with God, through that ritual in that place. I watched instead. People looked like they were entranced. Now that could be a positive thing or a negative thing. So I don't pretend to know what they were feeling.

I guess the other thing that always troubles me is that folks in the clergy will talk about Jesus, their church will go on "mission trips" to help people in trouble, but they won't ask the tough questions like why IS there this insane war in Iraq? Why has the Katrina response been so tragically inadequate? Why ARE there terrorists? What could we do to make the world a more peaceful place by LOOKING AT THE UNDERLYING CAUSES. Sigh. I take the stance that Jesus was a radical person who asked the tough questions, lived a powerful life that challenged the people in power, challenged their authority. But asking those sorts of questions might offend some wealthy members of the congregation, then there wouldn't be enough money for the huge multi-million dollar addition, for the "band aid" mission trips. I know, in my heart that people are doing their best. At least I want to believe that there is that in every person. Maybe not. Organized religion does have the capacity to do many good things in this world. But often I see them doing negative things. Or being silent about injustices. Silence is complicity.

I'm not saying that I or the Quakers have all the answers. I don't know if I have ANY of the answers. I do have a lot of questions, however.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Advent Sharing

This year I’ve taken a different approach to Advent. This is interesting to me because in past years of my life, I haven’t really approached Advent at all. I haven’t been mindful of this event. I never really “got it”. Advent was lost in the turmoil and noise that happens this time of year.

In late November, my friend Julia suggested that we alternate sharings of brief writings in the spirit of waiting, of what we noticing during the waiting. Throughout December, we’ve traded days and written short paragraphs about our “noticing” during this Advent season. Noticing things in the natural world, often relating to light and dark, as the nights get longer. Noticing our feelings of waiting. Sharing about the coming day of Christmas, the birth of Christ. Sharing about Solstice. Writing them down. Reading them to each other over the phone. Daily.

This has been enjoyable, soothing and deepening in the Spirit. As a spiritual practice, these readings and sharings have helped keep my focus away from all the commercial noise that rises to a crescendo around Christmas. And, it has helped my focus on two happenings this time of year: Solstice and Christmas. I don’t see these two as incompatible. The coming of the Light. Waiting expectantly for messages from God. And sharing those messages. The sharing has been very connecting.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

'Santa Crucified"

What WOULD we do without the high standards of journalism demonstrated by CNN. This morning, while eating breakfast at the motel, the TV over the fake fireplace shared the strange story that a man had put up a huge crucifix in his front yard, with Santa nailed to the wood. He did this, he said, because "the spirit of Santa has been perverted". HMMMMM. I never quite looked at the Holiday Season from that angle. What exactly IS the spirit of Santa?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Road..............

Poodledoc, Jr and I started out on our annual pilgrimage to visit the Poodledoc family in Chattanooga, TN. It is kind of nice that they are all conveniently located in one place. So there's my mom, Grandma Poodledoc, brother Chris Poodledoc and his family and my sister, Carol Poodledoc. We're spending Christmas and New Years with them. Should be............interesting. Guess we'll go to the Christmas Eve service at their Methodist Church.

Apparently they perform the Eucharist. My mom asked me if I "took communion any more now that I'm a Quaker". Interesting question. I said, well, it depends on how it's "presented". This could be another post. Do Quaker's take communion? Hmmmmmm. The short answer is that I see it as a communion with all living things, all the creatures, that have God in them. And all the other parts of creation that aren't living. But still have God in them. Then I feel moved to "take communion". It also feels more meaningful to me if it is presented to me/us as a communion with our community. But community is a big word. For some, it can be an inclusive word. And for some, it can be an exclusive word. So, the Eucharist can be a powerful symbolic ritual, even for me as a Quaker, or it can be a hollow exercise in which we get to eat little pieces of white bread and grape juice and repeat the same old same old. For me, as a Quaker, looking back on my Methodist upbringing, Eucharist and all, digging just a little deeper into the ritual can bring me feelings of connection with the Divine. The stuff behind the ritual. Stuff that got lost, at least for me. Which ultimately led me to become a Quaker. So, we'll see what choice I make on Christmas Eve. Or maybe I need to be open for a nudge from God, make space for God. Sometimes I don't leave room for God at my "spiritual table".

Anyway, I'll go to the Methodist church with Poodledoc, Jr on Christmas Eve and then go to Quaker Meeting the next weekend. I've been to the Chattanooga Friends Meeting once before and enjoyed it a great deal. I'm sure it will be ..........interesting....

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Coal in the Stocking of Congress

by Pat LaMarche
Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 by The Bangor Daily News (Maine)

.....I share this after waking up to hear the Congress, including many Democrats, passed the spending bill, with a 70 billion "Christmas present" attached for the WARS in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this isn't naughty, I don't know what is......

Dear Santa,

Merry Christmas. Sorry for writing to you this way - you know in such a public forum - but there’s less than a week now before your big ride and we’re in need.

By the way, I love that reindeer alternative energy thing; imagine what you would’ve spent on gas this year!

That reminds me, about Congress, those folks deserve nothing but coal. But please don’t fill their stockings with it. Even though the icebergs up your way keep shrinking; you give those people coal and they’ll just burn it. Maybe if you put little windmills or compact florescent bulbs in their stockings they would get the hint.

By the way Santa, you knew Congress when they were little and you know who’s naughty and who’s nice and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but couldn’t you tell when they sat on your lap as kids that they had one story for you and another story for everybody else?

Actually, I think they got the wrong message in those days. And now our government uses that same “sit on my lap and tell me what you want” routine with the oil, drug, insurance, banking, mercenary and military industrial machines!

Never mind, back to my list. The first item is rather unoriginal. “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

World peace probably topped a lot of lists over the years. I used to think that you never brought it because it’s too big for you to carry.

But now it seems more like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” when Ebenezer Scrooge asks the ghost of Jacob Marley for some small comfort to help him cope with the whole haunted thing, and Marley replies, “I have none to give. Comfort comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.”

Maybe peace on Earth doesn’t come from other regions, Santa. But if you really do know naughty from nice maybe you would prefer to give it to other kinds of men - people who could love each other - even love their enemies. Maybe you would prefer people who put humanity above profit.

Alas, I wish I could promise that we would keep the peace if you gave it to us, but I can’t. So let’s see what’s next.

Santa, our state colleges need help. The Christian Science Monitor reports that funding to our state colleges has been slashed so significantly that some schools have increased tuition by more than a third of what it cost just eight years ago. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education states that the single largest determining factor for a college education now - above intellectual ability - is money.

Over the last two decades the ratio of grants to loans for higher education has flipped. Our society used to fund 80 percent of the cost of higher education for our kids; now we cover 20 percent. And I won’t ask you to divert war funds; I finally get your whole peace thing.

But look, Exxon Mobil Corp. reports something besides the cost of a kid’s education that has gone up about a third: their profits. So here’s an idea.

Santa, may we please have a 10 percent tax on oil company profits and a law that precludes them from passing that tax onto us. And please designate all that money for our state colleges. (I might suggest starting with the universities of Maine and Southern Maine, and other really cold states where folks suffer miserably from soaring oil profits). In just three months of 2006, such a tax on Exxon alone would have given our colleges $9 billion. And Exxon would still have kept $81 billion!

Oh Santa, there are a whole bunch of ways that we could reverse the Dickensian reality our country has been free-falling into these last few years. Look how simply this oil tax could help our kids.

Unfortunately, this letter’s too short to list all the creative ways we could tackle our problems. So Santa, maybe you could just remind us how much we need to love each other, and treat each other fairly? Then like Scrooge and Marley learned - the greed of a few won’t ruin the lives of the many.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth, Maine is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What’s a Teacher to Do?

by Wendy Rochman
Published on Monday, December 17, 2007 by The Boulder Daily Camera (Colorado)

I thought this was an interesting article from Common Dreams, although I must disagree with her first sentence......

No teacher wants to tell her students that their president is a liar and a criminal. And yet, our president is a liar and a criminal. As a teacher, should I tell children the truth, and act to uphold our Constitution and Bill of Rights?

I am charged to do just that through the legally binding state and local professional educator standard, requiring me to model the democratic ideal. My failure to do so could be grounds for my dismissal. But here’s the catch: doing so could also be grounds for my dismissal! What’s a conscientious teacher to do? Seize the teachable moment! Model the democratic ideal of participatory democracy by writing a guest opinion, a right all citizens have, thanks to the First Amendment. Kids, listen up. Here’s the truth.

This president has led us into a disastrous war through lies and deceit. It is a “high crime and misdemeanor” to lead a country into war through lies and deceit. Everyone agrees that students should have consequences when caught lying or cheating on tests. Teachers would get fired if caught lying or cheating on professional documents. Should we let the president get away with lying and cheating the American people?

Everyone agrees that children need to be protected from parents who abuse or neglect them. All teachers are legally required to report even suspected abuse or neglect. Failure to do so could even land any teacher in jail! What’s a nurturing teacher to do? Report abuse!

This president’s conduct abuses the democracy we all hold dear and the protections of civil liberties afforded us in the Constitution. He has jailed American citizens without giving them their constitutional rights to a lawyer and fair trial. He has allowed methods of torture that violate international standards. His actions neglect our standing in the world as a nation of peace that protects democratic values and civil rights. Should the president get away with abusing our Constitution and neglecting our democratic values?

We expect teachers to treat all students in an equitable manner. In fact, teachers are required to provide “equal learning opportunities” for all and be fair and equitable in upholding policies. Blatantly under-serving any student or ignoring any policy would put a teacher’s future employment into jeopardy. Furthermore, it’s against the law. What’s a professional educator to do? Expose and repair inequities!

This president claims that not all legislation needs to be enforced equally. With his signing statements, he decides what laws he wants to ignore. This undermines our constitutional system of checks and balances, which protects us from dictatorship. Should this president get away with ignoring the law and treating legislation inequitably?

Students who willfully and repeatedly break school rules are bound by the consequences of their actions, and may be suspended or expelled from school. It is my duty as a professional educator who is responsible for the safety and well-being of my students to report and deal appropriately with bullies on the school grounds. What’s a patriotic teacher and American citizen to do? Should I turn a blind eye to the felonious crimes of President Bush and ignore our Constitution, or support every effort to impeach this president who has repeatedly violated our precious Constitution?

Our Founding Fathers were clear that impeachment was not to be used frivolously or for any personal vendetta. Impeachment is reserved for the most serious high crimes and misdemeanors. Although impeachment should be rare, it must be used if a president breaks the law. Our founders believed impeachment was so important, they made sure it is referred to six times in our Constitution.

The lies and crimes of this president directly affect the matters of our city. Federal housing funding for Housing Authority buildings, federal grants, school funding and other sources of federal funding are dwindling while billions are wasted in a failed war that has not made us safer and is ruining our country. As this president spends billions more on his failed war, it directly affects our city’s ability to function.

We in Boulder love our country, cherish our Constitution and honor the democracy it has nurtured. We value our freedom and our right and duty to defend it. Should we tell our children the truth, that we have a president who is a liar and a criminal, or wait until our grandchildren ask why we did nothing to stop him? To take impeachment “off the table” is like tabling our Constitution.

Wendy R. Rochman, M.Ed., has been teaching in Boulder Valley School District for more than two decades. Wendy dedicates this article to the thousands of students she has taught over the years, and their right to live in a functioning democracy that stands by its ideals.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Math Homework Woes

After spending painful hours working with Poodledoc, Jr on his mountain of math homework, I emailed the teacher and told her I felt that this was just oo much homework. It was overwhelming for my son, for me and created those lovely family tensions that in retrospect, we try to call "growth moments" through gritted teeth. Anyway, she emailed me back promptly with some professional,useful and supportive information. She told me that many parents were asking for MORE math homework. WHAT? I wanted to scream. Who ARE these people? Do their kids get to do other things in life? Or is it just math, science and test scores, oh my. Poodledoc, Jr likes to do other things. This mountain of homework is causing him to want to do less not more and therefore learn less. There was a time when he enjoyed school much,much more. This has changed. (of course,it could have something to do with his being a teenager and all, but......)

Who are these parents that want more homework? There's a very real part of me that wants to say something un-Quakerly,but I'll refrain here in my blog (big sigh of relief). I just tell my poodle who thinks it's ridiculous, all this homework. But this from an animal that sniffs poop. Anyway, he's a good listener.

Mitchell Commission Kicks Butt

If you care about baseball (and who wouldn't) you will have seen the list of ballplayers said to have used "performance enhancing drugs" in findings published today by a commission headed up by former Senator George Mitchell. The report, all 409 pages, names 85 baseball players, many of them major stars and future Hall of Famers. After scanning the list to see if any players from the Cubs (my favorite team) had been named, I considered for a moment. What does this mean? Does it mean anything? Were these guys cheating? (yes) Why, some of them even lied to Congress. Imagine that! Who would do such a thing!

The answer is of course: most members of the Bush Administration. To my knowledge, none of these ballplayers, whatever their crimes, has ever authorized illegal wiretapping, started an illegal war, engaged in "harsh interrogation" like waterboarding (let alone, torture), performed illegal rendition to secret prisons, or stole an election. Now that the Mitchell Commission has done this very thorough piece of work, I'd like to see Congress give them a new job: investigating the Bush administration, naming names, putting together a report on impeachment.

Don't get me wrong----if the athletes took drugs that were illegal, there need to be consequences for sure. But isn't it only a game? And isn't our government supposed to be "of the people, by the people and for the people"?

The swans on University Bay

The ice stretched out from shore to distant open water.
At the far edge
gleaming in the winter sun.
Calling to me.

I wanted to come close to the swans.
Perhaps I could walk out on the ice
but it looked too thin
So I was scared.
Stayed on the shore.
And walked away.

Today’s regret.

Back from blog vacation

I haven't been on for a bit. I had a nice Thanksgiving which included a wonderful visit from my dear friend, Julia, who lives in DC. Then, I just felt like I didn't have much to blog for a while. But I need to get back to ranting and stuff. I miss that. It's all part of trying to be a complete human being.