Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Happens at a Creativity Retreat at a Church Camp?

You may wonder what happens at a creativity retreat. I thought I'd share a photo essay from 2010.  And if it inspires you to come, head on over to Lutheridge in Arden, NC, where the retreat begins this evening!

As you might expect, we do a variety of arts and crafts (if you're the type of person who draws a distinction). Here are some batik pieces drying on a line. I like the prayer flag image that we've unconsciously evoked.

We did a variety of interesting worship services. Where else can you worship God with a parachute?

Wind chime creating was one of the most popular activities.

I particularly liked the chair weaving. What do you do when the bottom falls out? Make a new chair and one that's more beautiful.

We did a variety of playful activities. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me when we did tethered balloon rides. But here's some hula hoop play.

We had a talent show at the end. Here are people contra dancing to our impromptu bluegrass band.

We did a balloon meditation (go here to read about how we did it on a smaller scale at a planning meeting).

At the end, we did a Communion sending service at the braided labyrinth. I like that I've captured the stained glass window on the far wall, and the pottery and wood baptismal font in the front.

Plan now for next year! The retreat will be the week-end after Easter--you should come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Poem Reappears in "Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature"

Years ago, I was pleased to have a poem appear in Aethlon:  The Journal of Sport Literature.  And more recently, the poem was chosen to be part of the anthology that the editors put together periodically; I got my contributor's copy last week.

It's interesting to revisit it.  I don't usually write in form, but for this poem, I experimented with the villanelle.  I'm calling it a success.

And in terms of content, it's a poem I still like, even though I wrote it years ago. 

So, for your reading pleasure, here's the poem:

One Fast, One Slow

The muscles remember what the mind forgets.
The brain replays every decision, each move.
The muscles waste no time on useless regrets.

They keep an even speed, moving in the groove.
They do not lose a beat, always keeping the pace.
The muscles know only one way towards what they have to prove.

With the mind mired in time, the muscles move through space.
The body leaves the mind alone to second guessing.
The mind, unlike the body, knows there’s more than just one race.

The mind spends time wondering what is missing,
That abandoned job, the trip we never took,
The other people we could have been kissing.

The mind knows any decision is worth a second look,
Even choices made years ago.
The brain decides there’s no such thing as a closed book.

The muscles focus on their task, to strengthen and to grow,
The mind might say it does the same,
Two processes, one fast, one slow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Computer Crashes Past and Present

In some ways, I'm lucky.  It was just a month of computer discombobulation.  On the last Friday of March, I booted up my new laptop, which runs Windows 8, and clicked on the desktop tile.  It kept wanting to reload, and the only way I could get it to stop was to manually turn off the computer.

I could access other tiles, like the Internet and Photo tiles, which gave me access to some files.  But anything that launched from the desktop, like the virus checker or the feature that lets you go back to an earlier time, got caught up in the relaunching of the desktop.

By the time I got a tech support person from HP who could tell me an alternate way to get to the possibility of taking the computer back to an earlier time, it was too late.  I could go back as far as April 3, when I was already having the problem.

So, on Sunday, I launched the Windows Refresh feature.  It's supposed to let you keep your files and photos, but you'll have to reload software.  And to my great surprise, that's exactly what happened.  Resurrection of the computer on Easter Sunday--surely there's a poem there!

The Refresh feature did file my Word documents in a different location, so at first I thought I had lost them.  But I've worked with computers for years, so after 30 seconds of panic, I looked in other places and found the files.

Even if I had lost the files, I had them in other places.  It might have taken a morning to reassemble them all back on the laptop, but they wouldn't have been lost forever. 

I'm happy that the Refresh feature exists; but if we can refresh without losing documents and pictures, why can't we refresh without losing the software and apps?

I downloaded Norton 360 again.  Happily, my spouse bought several extra downloads back in the summer; at the time, I thought he was nuts.  I did try finding Norton support to find if I had to use one of those downloads or if I had some free source since I wasn't really loading to a new device but no luck.  I took the way of least resistance.  Soon, I'll reload the Office Suite, which I have on an old-fashioned CD, so I can have access to it all the time.

I think back to past computer crashes.  Unlike in earlier years, I have access to a multitude of computers, so when one is going haywire, it's much easier to work around the one computer.  But unlike earlier years, I'm relying much more on computers, so the issue of getting the problem solved takes on an urgency.  I've spent a lot of time and energy in the past few weeks trying to restore this laptop, which I've only been using since mid-December.

I've learned an important lesson.  I need to back up the files on this computer on a more regular basis, even though I routinely e-mail documents to myself and save them elsewhere.  But having all the files backed up in one easy place would have made my mind a bit easier in the past month.

We live in amazing times.  We're very close to getting rid of the desk top computer, which we will likely not replace with another desk top.  We can carry all of our files in a tiny little thumb/stick drive.  We can back up several computers into a multi-terabyte external drive that we can easily carry with us--and that external drive can be bought for less than $100.

I suspect that when I look back over my life, I'll see as one of the biggest human developments of my lifetime to be the cheapness of computer power and the fact that we can carry such power in such small devices.  Hopefully those developments will help us deal with whatever is coming our way in this great extinction that we've launched.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Resurrection Stories

Today will be a busy day for many of us.  I am soon off to church.  I'll go to my favorite family service, and since my spouse only sings 8 bars of music in the later service, I may opt for quiet reading/writing in the fellowship hall while waiting for him.  After the late service, we are part of the money counting team.  Then we will get home and have some quiet time in the afternoon.

There will be no bunny cake.  My spouse wanted to grill a ham for Easter, but we did that on Friday, since we had more time; it ended up not being a ham but a pork roast, and it was delicious.  Maybe later today we'll throw some steaks on the grill.

My 19 year old vegetarian self would not recognize me.

I am looking forward to hearing the Easter message, that death does not have the final word, although in many a season, it sure does look like death will have the final word.  It's been a Lent of many cancers, many of them which have migrated.  None of them have been in my body, but there's an agony to being a witness.  I'm going to write a poem about that aspect and tie it in to the Good Friday vision of the women at the foot of the cross.

But not today.  Today is a day to remember the various commitments to resurrection.  Here's one of my favorite poems on that subject, at least one of the favorites of the ones I've written.  This one first appeared in my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard (Pudding House Publications, 2004). The poem is based on real events, and I wrote it to remind myself of the possibility of miracles.

Rainy Redemption

She told us the X-ray showed a black
spot on her lung. We assumed the cancer harbored
in her breast had set on an odyssey
for new land, and when we didn’t see her
again, we assumed the worst.

Three years later, the flowers bloomed in their annual
tribute to spring, and I saw
her in a parking lot. At first, I thought I saw a ghost,
but I held her fleshly
form, still sapling-thin, and knew she had returned,
Lazarus-like, to live among us again.

Our culture focuses on the lost, the missing
in action, but we forget the world commits
to resurrection and reunion. The twig of a tree
sends sap to its tips, the crispy lawn returns
to a life filled with chlorophyll, muscles
wait for the mind to remember what they never forgot,
each generation resurrects the music of its elders,
babies look towards the sky for the familiar
face of the missing parent, history holds
us in its hands and offers rainy redemption.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love in the Time of Climate Change

--I feel like I should have more to say about the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I feel like I should have more to say about his work.

--But here's my guilty confession:  I haven't read the novels.  I do love teaching "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I want to think I will read the novels some day.  But each year brings more and more that I want to read.  Sigh.  Maybe in retirement.

--What am I reading instead?  This week it's Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.  When I first got it from the library, I felt a bit of disappointment.  I want her to be discussing the current extinction, also known as the Holocene Extinction.  She is, but she's doing it in a round-about way, by talking about 13 species who have died, 13 species which have a larger symbolism.  It's a compelling book.

--It feels like a perfect book for Passover and Holy Week, those high holy days which celebrate events which must have felt like a visitation of end times.

--On my theology blog this morning, I wrote this post about my Lent of many cancers--none of them mine, thankfully.  Still, it's been quite a season of reminders of mortality.  I was sitting at Good Friday service, thinking of those metaphors for mortality, the dry bones, the ashes.  But modern mortality feels more like murderous cells running amok, swimming and sailing along the blood stream.  Modern mortality involves rising seas.  Modern images of mortality are very wet.

--I still have hopes that decades from now, my friend and I will be little old ladies rocking on a porch somewhere.  We'll look back to this time when she struggled with esophageal cancer as one of those times when we were afraid and weepy but it all turned out OK.
She'll mock me gently.  You'll say, "You worried about me, but you should have been worried about sea level rise and how stupid you were to buy a house that's so close to the beach!"
We'll raise a glass to all the houses that have been swallowed by the sea, and all the ones we've loved, those who are still with us, and those who have gone on ahead.
--Kolbert's book talks about background extinctions, the ones that are happening all the time, the ones that are too small for us to notice.  She contrasts these to mass extinctions.  There seems a sort of poetry in these ideas, a symbolism waiting to be mined.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wishing for Safe Passage

Yesterday I confessed to a friend at work that I have "trust fund envy."  She reminded me of all those trust fund folks who don't show outer evidence of groundedness.

I thought of the volunteer appreciation breakfast that had started my day.  I went to Collins Elementary, where I am a Reading Pal.  I wasn't sure what to expect.

The Reading Pals comprised about 1/3 of the group.  There were 5-8 people there who were members of St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church, just three blocks away from the school.  Some people had attended the school when they were young.

I could be wrong, but I'd guess that no one in that room had a trust fund.  Many of us have been lucky enough to have our needs met, either through our own hard work or through the hard work of our parents or grandparents.  And of course, if we came to that breakfast, it seems safe to say that we understand the value of giving back to the more vulnerable members of our community.

Collins Elementary has a student body primarily composed of minority populations.  I want to believe that those children have as much of a chance at success as anyone, but I know the odds are stacked against them.  I understand the demographics of the U.S. prison system.

When I got to the school, an older child was summoned to escort me to the Learning Resource Center.  The boy held the door for me as we left the office and as we entered the LRC.  He made polite conversation.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him.

I think of my Reading Pal who is so eager to please.  The program uses this trait to promote reading; on Wednesday, he read a whole book to me, which was a first.  I think of all the predators out there who could abuse this child's desire to please adults.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him and all the little children.

The elementary school is set up for the safety of children and to encourage their natural curiosities and learning potential.  I know that many students don't have this same experience in middle and high schools.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for them.

This has been a week season of reminders of the fragility of life.  We think we have a secure job and that because we do it well, we will avoid lay offs:  but we believe at our peril.  One minute we have glowing good health and the next minute we're being screened to see if cancerous cells have set off on a journey.  It's Passover and Holy Week, with the ritualized reminders of this fragility of life all week.

How I wish for a life of safe passage for us all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spiritual Insights--and Poems!--at the Airport

Sunday's post of a few weeks ago put me in mind of poems I've written, poems that explore the intersections of air travel, bread, and spirituality.  It's not necessarily a path that many poets explore. I refer to Maundy Thursday, after all.  Who even knows that festival anymore?

Still, I send these odd poems out, and they find a home.  This one was published in Florida English.

Today is Maundy Thursday, so it's also a good day to post this poem.  And I got the good news last night that my best friend who has esophageal cancer was able to eat a regular meal last night.  Between tumors and nausea, she hasn't been eating much at all this year.  This poem reminds me of her, of my trip to visit her, of that long afternoon in the airport.

Perhaps it's time to think about putting together a new chapbook or full-length manuscript.  Maybe it's time for a book that's more overtly spiritual.  Yesterday I got my copy of The Nearest Poem Anthology, where my poem "Heaven on Earth" appears.  That poem is a favorite of so many people.  Maybe it's pointing me in a direction I should follow.

In the meantime, here's the poem.  I wrote it when my flight was delayed by hours and hours on Maundy Thursday at the Atlanta airport.  As I observed the airport and thought about the ancient holiday and my home church, the poem practically wrote itself.

Maundy Thursday at Hartsfield

 We long for Celestial food, or at least to leave our earthbound
selves behind, but it is not to be. The airport shuts
down as late thunderstorms sweep across the south.
I resign myself to spending Maundy Thursday in the airport.

One of a minority who even knows the meaning of Maundy,
I roam restlessly. I cannot even approximate
a Last Supper—the only food to be had is fast
and disgusting. I think of that distant
Passover, the Last Supper that transformed
us into a Eucharistic people.

A distant outpost of a vast empire, teeming
with a variety of humans, all hurrying
and keeping our heads down: Jerusalem or the modern
airport? I watch my fellow humans, notice
the hunger in their faces, their haunted feet,
so in need of love and water.

I watch Spring Breakers and athletes and moms
and gnarled elders and unattached children, all racing
through their earthly days, hurtling through time,
crossing continents, without any rituals to ground
them. I think of Christ’s radical
agenda: homelessness, care, and listening,
ignoring rules that made no sense,
making scarce resources stretch,
food eaten on the run, a community hunted
by their own and by the alien government.
I miss my own church, by now gathered in a dark
sanctuary, participating in ancient rituals
we don’t fully understand, looking for that thin
place between the sacred and the every day.