Thursday, July 21, 2011

a time to build

When my grandfather was young his family lived in Alabama, and the way my dad tells the story is that the mosquitos were so bad there that even the animals on the farm couldn't stand it, and so the community broke down the church, loaded it on a train, and everyone moved their families to Oklahoma to live together there.

Can you imagine a group of people so committed to each other, so dependent on one another, that they would move everything to stay together?  Was there conflict?  Did some people's children drive everybody nuts?

Community has been on my mind a lot lately.  Reading Wendell Berry has exposed this raw place in me that aches for it.  It seems so rare in our culture, we are so lost, so transient, so lonely.  People move and shift and back away and close their doors.

I don't have much time today- minutes only- but I wanted to quickly write about a conversation Jim and I had recently, about our need for community and what we are going to do about it.  We moved recently, and nearly all the friends and family have at some point moved somewhere, so that we all are scattered all over the globe.  Jim and I began to list the people who we feel this pull for, this deep abiding care because of the ways that our souls have mingled at some point in our life . . . the people who we are better, stronger, kinder, more alive having shared life with them whether the time was brief or great . . .

We made a list of those people and decided that we will commit to them, specifically remember them, encourage them; we will find ways to cross the distance or busyness of life to be with them as often as we can.   Wherever we live, they will be our community.

This is a significant list for us, and especially now I am opening my eyes to see how I have neglected people, in the last six years of being a mom.  My world became so full that it was all I could see, and now I realize that my world has become small, that I have been lazy with some of the relationships that I love most.   I miss them- there is this gaping hole in my life without them.  I wish that I could rebuild life alongside them- but I can't, but there are things I can do.

And this is all very unedited and unpolished . . . but it is what is spilling out of my heart . . . and I have to be finished and publish because I have bags to pack, cheeks to kiss. a plane to catch.  This weekend I am spending with two of my very best friends, life friends.  I hope that this weekend represents a new chapter, a fresh plot of ground to build upon and a new community we are living alongside, depending upon, however far apart our zip codes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

summer drips

Today .  . .

may life be juicy and dripping down your arms~

may you pay no attention to the fruit stains~
refuse to complain about the weather~
turn the air conditioning off~
and turn toward the sun~
let sweat drip down your back~
and be glad.

Today may you live in the season as it passes . . . 

breathe the air,
drink the drink,
taste the fruit,

and resign yourself to the influences of each.*
(Henry David Thoreau)


This post pretty much sums up my life right now . .. Every. Day.  Today I am trying to turn my chair towards the sun . . . to give extra hugs to the teething toddler who needs me all day long and all night . . . reminding myself that I may only have a few more months of her on my hip, and how sad it will be (and how nice) when I have my left arm back.  

This post is so funny, and so true!  Why having a toddler is like being at a frat party.  (Not that we ever had frat parties at MVNU!)

 be patient with the way God has planned for you to become a very happy, belly-bumping frog. Don’t settle for being a tadpole or a weird half-frog. But don’t be surprised at the weirdness and slowness of the process either. . . . Just stay the course and look. Look, look. There is so much to see. The Bible is inexhaustible. Mainly look there. The other book of God, the unauthoritative one—nature—is also inexhaustible. Look. Look. Look. Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being changed.

Two books:

I guess I enjoy reading about writing as much as I like to write . . . this book is a classic, I copied tons of notes . . .
Writing is 90% listening.  You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you, and when you write, it pours out of you.   
Listening is receptivity.  The deeper you can listen, the better you can write. 
If you want to become a good writer,
1. read a lot
2. listen well and deeply
3. write a lot
*and don't think too much.

This read to me like a parable- I would give this book to anyone who's marriage is struggling or who may be considering divorce . . . a very honest story of a couple who gives up on their marriage, and the loss that brings to both them and their children.

*Confession: I love summer.  Love it love it love it- and I was commenting to Jim about what a big deal everyone makes about summer heat, as though it's never been hot before, and don't you think American's are growing increasingly wimpier? . . . He asked if I will be saying that in the middle of a Cleveland winter.  Um, no.  :-}

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

be careful. be careless. be careful.

To my daughters,

I tell you to be careful a lot.  The two words that come before anything you do.  It must seem like my favorite thing to say.  

But the truth is, the really hugely important, deep down truth is that I hope you are not always careful.  You need to be careless sometimes too.

be careful. be careless. be careful.

But here is what is really terrible.  You won’t always know when to be careful, or when to be careless.  In fact you will probably do it at all the wrong times.  

What is worse is that sometimes, when you will think you are being so careful is when you are in fact being the most careless, but you won’t even know it until one day looking back wishing you had been less careful there and more careful then.  

Someday you will look back and be glad you listened to your mother.  There will be a day when you wish you hadn’t.

please be careful
be careful, too, that you aren’t too careful  

listen to your mother
hold my hand
look both ways

obey your fears, be aware of discomfort, don’t apologize
don’t be afraid

submit freely to beauty and justice
do not submit to anyone who demands your submission

avoid angry people and angry religion
get good and angry sometimes

let yourself love, do not be ashamed of loving
above all else, guard your heart  
trust your heart’s deepest affections- follow them  
set your affection on things above

distrust easy answers and people who have no questions
tell the truth
be shamelessly honest, with yourself most of all

say YES
tell him no

hold on

walk away
wait for it
let it go

stay up all night debating everything you’ve ever been taught
decide in the morning to backpack Thailand or to become a pastry chef in France or to start riding your bike and not stop riding
wake up in at least one country where you do not know anyone
climb the mountain you think you cannot climb

stay home
know your neighbors
find your tribe or clan or family or community and commit to them, love them, dwell with them

take the road less traveled
travel light
bring a jacket
be amazed

be careful
be careless

be a hedonist
be an ascetic
believe that the world is good
beware, the world is crazy

hear your critics and people who disagree with you
ask people to tell you their stories

be innocent as a dove
be shrewd as a serpent
believe all things
hope always
cling to what is good
be forgiven

watch the sun set with drag queens and addicts and bohemians and suburbanites and fundamentalists and bow your head and know that we are all the same

do not always listen to your mother

love, mom

Saturday, July 9, 2011

three things to do today

1. Be Inspired

 If you only read one book this summer . . . or this year . . . let it be Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I realize that I am a little late to the party here, but it is one of the best books I have read! (I feel like I say that a lot . . . but really).  In typical Miller fashion, it is laugh-out-loud funny, slightly irreverent and quirky, but powerful too, and very relevant to anyone wanting to live a good story.
He said it's that nagging feeling that life could be magical; it could be special if we were only willing to take a few risks.
I think this is when most people give up their stories.  They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies.  But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought.  They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. . . They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.
We have to force ourselves to create these scenes.  We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner-tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.  We have to make altars.

2.  Eat

Our vegetables in our CSA are getting funkier, and I am loving it!  Last night we had roasted Kohlrabi.  I had never tasted this vegetable before . . . everyone approved.

3.  Laugh

Completely unrelated . .. if you are on Twitter you should follow my brother Joe.  I don't spend much time on twitter, but I do read his tweets when I need a laugh.  You really should follow him- unless you are easily offended, then, please, don't.

 Joe Hartzler 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Books 15 & 16

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

This is my second time reading this book, and I enjoyed it even more than the first.  It is a great summertime read, set on the dunes of Cape Cod.

There is no doubt that Dillard's writing is quirky and unexpected, often bizarre or just plain incomprehensible.  (I was relieved to read that other reviewers admitted this as well).  She references gobs of literature and uses words I have never seen before and some argue do not actually exist.  Sometimes this kind of writing can feel snooty, but it feels to me that Dillard writes with a twinkle in her eye, a kind of eccentric energy and academia combined with unexpected common language and self-deprecating humor.

I read that her original manuscript for the Maytrees was 1400 pages, which she edited down to 216 pages.  Her prose reads like poetry, and she doesn't waste a single word, doesn't even use quotation marks, so that every sentence feels very purposeful, always unexpected.

The Maytrees is about Toby Maytree, a poet and his wife Lou, a painter ("She lacked a woman's sense of doom.  She did what she wanted- like who else on earth?  All her life she found dignity overrated.  She rolled down dunes).  I imagine Dillard dreaming up what would be the absolute perfect beginning to a relationship- and could even this love last?  Maytree and Lou are wildly and passionately in love ("Love so sprang in her, she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it"), living together in a one-room shack on the dunes of Cape Cod where they work only enough to survive, "between them they read about 300 books a year."

The question Dillard seems to be asking, and attempting to answer with this story, is the question Maytree wrestles with at the beginning of their life together, when they are still soaring with love and lust:  Was romantic love a modern invention?  How long could it last as requited?  As unrequited?   Does familiarity blur lovers' clear sight of essences and make ers, presumably because the lovers forget and reimagine each other, is love then wholly false?  How false? 

For even the Maytrees, love eventually does fade.  Maytree leaves Lou for their close friend Deary and they move together to Maine.  Lou must work-out her loss and eventually is able to think well of Maytree and Deary again.  Maytree finds that love with Deary does not last either, but he holds on out of duty.  In Maine they work together, she an architect he a builder, and make a lot of money.  Eventually Maytree is forced to go back to Lou to request her help in caring for Deary.  It is a beautiful story of friendship and forgiveness, perhaps telling the truth about what, in the end, love is.

Along with this is a deeper theme of life and death and dying;
What was it, exactly- or even roughly- that we people are meant to do here?  Or, how best use one's short time?  . . .  All these peoples voted on what we are supposed to do here by portioning their time. . . . Were people missing something?  If we are missing something, why the big secret?
I love one answer he finds, from an old Mayah book;
The first beings gave thanks to the gods:
-Truly now, double thanks, triple thanks
that we've been formed.  We've been given
our mouths, our faces.
We speak, we listen, we wonder,
we move . . . under the sky.
The Maytrees is a gorgeous book.  I would like to have read the other 1200 pages.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Rabbit, Run was written in 1960.  I found it entirely depressing.  Rabbit is an immature has-been basketball star who runs out on his marriage, and creates a series of horrible events as a result.  He runs away from responsibility, boredom, the constraints of marriage and family, as though playing a game and simply passing off the ball to someone else.  Just when you think he is going to grow up, he runs away again.

gratitude in the process

I am searching you, and knowing your heart.
I am testing you and knowing your anxious thoughts.
I am looking to see if there is any offensive way in you,
and leading you in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

This passage was read this way, in the present tense, at church a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me.  I had not thought to read scripture this way, that God is now doing what we have prayed he will do.

. . . counting His gifts,

71.  I really, really love living in the city

72.  mudpies and ice cream with the girls at the Botanical Garden.  They love that place!

73.  our neighborhood pool

74.  diversity

75.  our CSA

78.  taking walks in our neighborhood

79.  Jo and Larry and their precious kiddos

80.   Antolia cafe

81.  Half Price Books

82.  the Lake

83.  a day for being quiet

84.  the things God teaches me through my kids, every day

85.  He is testing . .. knowing . . . leading

86.  Dressing Josie is always a challenge because you must first pry away whatever is in her hands.  She yells and begs . . . it made me think about the things my Father takes out of my hands, so that He can clothe me in His righteousness.

87.  thankful for the unknowns

88.  Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!

89. the sound of popcorn popping

90.  iced tea

91.  two sweet days to lavish all our attention on Josie (her loving every minute!)

92.  Sami saying on the phone that she was sad last night because she missed her Mommy.  (But happy again at her Grandma's house this morning).

93.  Driving with the windows down

94.  creating peace in the playroom

95.  less= better

96.  sitting down with a book after a crazy-busy week

97.  the girls' buddy Izaak visiting, his mom Anna

98.  Jim and Josie at the art museum & a few hours of quiet for writing/dreaming

99.  a good excuse to avoid laundry for a few days (MICE!!!!!)

100.  Summer afternoon- Summer afternoon . .. the two most beautiful words in the English language! 
(Henry James)

101.  All of the kind words and advice sent to me regarding my post on our decision about schooling . .. Thank-you!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

God's Good World

Books 13& 14

Last week I happened to be reading two books at the same time, and they interestingly paralleled each other, in many ways arriving at the same conclusion to two different questions.

I feel a little foolish even attempting to summarize the two essays on this blog, and would much rather be sitting in a circle having this discussion with friends.

This is a long post of mostly quotations, you may just want to read the essays for yourself: you can read the full essay of  Christianity and the Survival of Creation, by Wendell Berry here, and the book Love Wins, by Rob Bell.

First, the essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation is just one in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community- several great essays in this book.

Wendell Berry sheds light on Biblical instruction about the care of the earth, but his conclusion carries greater implications as well, of course:

The Bible is clear about the sanctity and holiness of the Earth:

"The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof: the world and they that dwell therein."  In biblical terms, the "landowner" is the guest and steward of God: "The land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

Destruction of nature is blasphemy against God:

People who quote John 3:16 as an easy formula for getting to Heaven neglect to see the great difficulty implied in the statement that the advent of Christ was made possible by God's love for the world- not God's love for Heaven or for the world as it was and is.  Belief in Christ is thus dependent on prior belief in the inherent goodness- the lovability- of the world.

. . . our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.

Dualisms within modern Christianity need to be avoided:

.  . . between Creator and creature, spirit and matter, religion and nature, religion and economy, worship and work, and so on. ..  .  In its best known, its most dangerous, and perhaps its fundamental version, it is the dualism of body and soul."

Holiness of Creation:

Gen 2:7:
The Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.
The formula given is not man= body + soul; but soul= dust + breath.  "God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter in an envelope.  He formed man of dust, then, by breathing His breath into it, he made the dust live.  The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul.  "Soul" here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discreet parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.

The breath of God is only one of the divine gifts that make us living souls; the other is dust.  Most of our modern troubles come from our misunderstanding and misvaluation of this dust.  Forgetting that the dust, too, is a creature of the Creator, made by the sending forth of His spirit, we have presumed to decide that the dust is "low."  We have presumed to say that we are made of two parts: a body and a soul, the body being "low" because made of dust, and the soul "high."  . . .we inevitably throw them into competition with each other, like two corporations.  . .. The dominant religious view, for a long time, has been that the body is a kind of scrip . . . which can be cashed in to redeem the soul but is otherwise worthless.  And the predictable result has been a human creature able to tolerate or appreciate only the "spiritual" (or mental) part of Creation and full of semiconscious hatred of the "physical" or "natural" part, which it is ready and willing to destroy for "salvation", for profit, for "victory", or for fun.  This madness constitutes the norm of modern humanity and of modern Christianity.

But to despise the body or mistreat it for the sake of the "soul" . . . is yet another blasphemy.  It is to make nothing- and worse than nothing- of the great Something in which we live and move and have our being.

Connection between religion and economy:

. . . by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God.  How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them- all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance.  In answering them, we practice, or not practice, our religion.

. . . Because [Christianity] has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy.  It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households.  It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire.

. . . Less is said of the Gospel's "bad news" which is that Jesus would have been horrified by just about every "Christian" government the world has ever seen.  He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him.

It seems to me that Wendell Berry's essay on our approach to creation care- that life is holy now, and everything we do is holy resonates with the ideas Rob Bell is suggesting in Love Wins.  That,
Life has never been about "just getting in."  It's about thriving in God's good world.  It's stillness, peace, and that feeling of your soul being at rest, while at the same time it's about asking things, learning things, creating things, and sharing it all with others who are finding the same kind of joy in the same good world. 
Jesus calls disciples to keep entering into this shared life of peace and joy as it transforms our hearts, until it's the most natural way to live that we can imagine.  Until it's second nature.  Until we naturally embody and practice the kind of attitudes and actions that will go on in the age to come.  A discussion about how to "just get into heaven" has no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus, because it's missing the point of it all.  (p.179)

Love Wins has been discussed all over the blogosphere, I don't care to add more opinions.  Yes, I would recommend reading it . . . but only if you can just for a moment put aside any anger or defensiveness and approach the book as a child . . . with a joyful heart, hopeful spirit, and great imagination.  You don't have to agree with everything, or anything.  Reading the book will not make you a heretic, and neither will asking questions.  God is big enough.

My favorite line from the book:

Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.